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Offender from state program to live in area

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Right in the middle of a far-reaching debate about the state's sex offender program, the fourth offender ever released is moving to the Rochester area.

Benjamin Franklin Gissendanner, 68, has been provisionally discharged from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in St. Peter, and will move in September to Rock Dell Township, southwest of Rochester.

Though Gissendanner has been classified as a Level 1 offender — and not the more serious Level 3 — by law, his release from the program requires broad public notification. He must also register as a predatory offender.

A community notification meeting has been set for 7 p.m. Aug. 18 at the East St. Olaf Lutheran Church, 6200 Olmsted County Road 3 Southwest.

Law enforcement officials and representatives from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, who will supervise Gissendanner, will be at the meeting to answer questions.

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Gissendanner was convicted in 1982 of breaking into a woman's St. Paul home and sexually assaulting her, using force and threats to gain compliance, court documents say.

He was convicted of a similar offense in 1970 in the state of New York.

Gissendanner has served his sentences in their entirety, and is not wanted by law enforcement. The Olmsted County Sheriff's Office may not direct where he lives, works or goes to school.

Gissendanner's release comes at a time when a federal judge is asking the state to take action to rework the program, which has been deemed unconstitutional because of its practice of indefinitely holding more than 700 offenders considered "sexually dangerous" and a threat to reoffend.

The offenders are sent to one of two state facilities after they've completed their prison terms; Gissendanner is the fourth to be released in the program's 21-year history.

A conference Monday designed to discuss and implement changes stems from a class-action lawsuit brought by offenders who have been committed to the program by a court apart from any criminal sanctions.

The meeting started a phase that will likely drag on for weeks or months. Once the judge issues a ruling about what must be done with the program, appeals could follow. Even then, it would likely require legislative action to make any substantive changes.

No agreements or decisions were reached Monday.

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