CHIPLEY — The first civil commitment case under the Jimmy Ryce Act to be heard in Washington County occurred Tuesday when a jury found Alton Hartzog to be a sexually violent predator based on the evidence provided by the state.
As a result of the six-person jury’s finding, Hartzog, 73, will be committed indefinitely to the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia, where he has been held since his release from prison in 2008.
The case was tried in front of District Court Judge Christopher Patterson in Chipley on Tuesday.
“Basically, he has been locked up 10 years for a five year sentence,” said Marianna Attorney Crystal Marsh, representing Hartzog. Marsh is assistant regional counsel for the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel, 14th Judicial District.
Hartzog, a former Washington County resident, pled guilty in 2004 to 14 counts of sexual performance with a minor in connection with photographs he took of a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old girl.
Hartzog was found guilty of possession of photo/picture showing sexual performance by a child in Bay County in 2004 and found guilty of possession of photo/picture showing sexual performance by a child and producing, directing or promoting sexual performance by a child in Washington County court in 2004.
When asked if he recognized that taking the photographs of children was wrong, Hartzog replied, “Frankly, yes.”
Hartzog was incarcerated in the Department of Corrections until 2008, when he was released from prison, only to be detained in the state Civil Commitment Center pending treatment — nearly five years ago.
During the intervening years, Hartzog has not received treatment at the Civil Commitment Center, due to his failing health and a succession of lawyers who have tried to represent him in his fight against the state.
Marsh said she received the case in October. “I got it just in time to go to trial.”
The state has been committing individuals deemed “sexually violent predators” to incarceration and state-mandated treatment.
The evidence against Hartzog in Tuesday’s trial primarily consisted of the testimony of psychologists, based on evaluations that were performed on Hartzog in 2008, as well as the fact that Hartzog had indeed been convicted of sexual offenses in 2004.
Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Taylor of Panama City, an attorney with the law office Manuel and Thompson, said he is a former prosecutor and he works part time for the state prosecuting cases under the Jimmy Ryce Act of 1999, which is also known as the Jimmy Ryce Involuntary Civil Commitment for Sexually Violent Predators’ Treatment and Care Act.
Taylor said he as tried 13 of these commitment cases in the district over the past five or six years, mainly in Bay County, and he has won them all.
Tuesday’s case was the first Jimmy Ryce Act case tried in Washington County, and it proved no exception to Taylor’s record, with the four women and two men of the jury taking less than 25 minutes to come to a verdict, following a six-hour trial.
In closing arguments, Marsh pointed out that the state’s psychologists said there was a seven percent chance that Hartzog would reoffend in the next five years, based upon their studies and their finding that he is a diagnosed pedophile.
“That means there is a 93 percent chance that he won’t reoffend in the next five years,” Marsh told the jury. “His life expectancy might be less than his chance of reoffending.”
Taylor said that commitment was the best thing for Hartzog. “This isn’t a case of throwing away the key on someone, we want Mr. Hartzog to get the treatment he needs so he will no longer be a threat to society. We hope someday he can be released, but not until he gets the treatment and care that he needs.”