The success rate for prosecutors is very high. During the past three years, 307 convicts have been committed under the Ryce Act, with 20 in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, according to DCF statistics.
In that same time period, only 26 convicts statewide were released after winning at trial. That includes six in Broward and one in Miami-Dade.
Attorney Jack Fleischman, of West Palm Beach, said he has won at least five Ryce cases and nearly all of the clients have remained trouble free, and some have thrived.
Others have not fared well. The most high-profile: In 1999, rapist Marlin Leach became the first person tried under the Ryce Act in Palm Beach. Jurors decided he should not be committed.
But in 2008, Leach, now 41, broke into a Riviera Beach home and kidnapped and raped a woman. He is now serving a life sentence in prison.
Also in 2008, jurors refused to commit door-to-door salesman Marcus T. Davis after he finished an 11-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting a Fort Myers woman. After he moved to Georgia, police said Davis tried to rape his sister’s friend.
Jurors acquitted him at trial. Later, when allegations arose that he molested a young girl, police arrested him for failing to register as a sex offender.
He’s now doing two years in prison, scheduled for release next year.
Other times, released convicts return to prison on technical probation violations.
In 2007, jurors declined to send convicted child molester Eddie Lee Sadler, of East Naples, to the commitment center. Three months later, Sadler was returned to prison after he violated his parole for being away from home past curfew.
Robert Sazone, a convicted child molester released from confinement by a jury, was sent back to prison for 10 years after he helped his mother string up Christmas lights at her home. The house, it turned out, doubled as a part-time school — a violation of his probation.
As for Vega, Miami-Dade police said that in the early 1980s, he plucked women — between the ages of 15 and 28 — off the streets or bus stops, raping them in isolated wooded areas.
Vega was arrested in 1985 after a Miami-Dade detective, while interviewing a victim at the crime scene, spotted the man’s red truck drive by. In all, prosecutors said he was linked to attacks on six women. He pleaded guilty and agreed to a 30-year term, of which he did 25 years.
At the two-week-long civil trial, prosecutors said Vega tried to escape prison custody three times, once successfully. And three psychologists, in testimony and reports, said Vega suffers from mental disorders, including “sexual sadism” and a personality disorder.
His attorneys and a defense psychologist insisted that the state’s inexact science could not predict that Vega would re-offend if he were let out.
The judge ordered Vega committed on a “directed verdict” requested by prosecutors.
Gene Zenobi, the head of Miami’s publicly funded Regional Counsel defense office, said the judge’s decision flies in the face of rules crafted over the years with the help of committees of lawyers on both sides.
“I have trouble accepting that a judge can unilaterally circumvent the rules laid out by the Supreme Court,” said Zenobi, who is not involved in the case. “What she did was rather unprecedented.”
Vega will appeal the judge’s decision. But prosecutors say the judge made the right call.
“It was a wise choice,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said. “She sided with the public. She wasn’t going to put kids at risk.”