In 1989, Gregory Joiner pleaded guilty to a charge of sexual assault enhanced in the 336th state District court and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. That sentence will run out in April of 2019, but a case heard in the west courtroom of the Grayson County Courthouse recently means Joiner, now in his 60s, won’t be released from custody.
A jury recently found Joiner to have a “behavioral abnormality” that predisposes him to commit sexually violent offenses and thereby is a menace to the health and safety of others. With that finding, Judge Martin Lowy ordered Joiner to be civilly committed.
Holding such a hearing and requiring those who have already served their sentences to remain in some sort of supervised custody is part of a program began in 1999 when Texas legislators worried about repeat violent offenders getting out of prison and finding more victims. They created laws that target the worst of the worst of such offenders for extended supervision.
To be considered for such a hearing, Joiner had to have been convicted of at least two violent sexual offenses. During a recent hearing at the Grayson County Courthouse, Section Chief for the Civil Division of Texas’ Special Prosecution Unit Erin Faseler told the jury about the offense that landed him in jail and a prior conviction he had for a violent sexual assault in Arkansas. Faseler then allowed the jury to hear from a mental health practitioner, Sherri Gaines, who testified that Joiner did, in fact, have the behavioral abnormality in that he continued to minimize the harm he had done to the women he raped and to minimize or characterize his actions during the assaults.
For instance, Gaines told the jury, Joiner said he escorted the woman he raped in Sherman out of her home to a field. In fact, Gaines said, Joiner had dragged the woman out of her home by the hair on her head. His romanticization of his actions and the women’s reactions to his attack means, Gaines said, Joiner was not seeing the situation realistically. She said his sexual fantasies revolve around rape scenarios.
Joiner was defended in the civil hearing by Samarla Parker and Tom Brewer of the State Counsel for Offenders Office. They argued there was no way the state could actually predict whether Joiner would reoffend.
The jury’s finding that Joiner should be committed means he will likely report to a facility in Littlefield, about 40 miles northwest of Lubbock, where the state houses such offenders. Faseler said Joiner is the third such person to be civilly committed recently in Grayson County. She said she is not aware of any further pending commitment hearings at this time. Two of the other defendants were committed after a jury trial and one man agreed to the commitment without a trial.
Once Joiner gets to the Littlefield facility, he will be assessed and placed on the state’s tier system, which Faseler said is set up to help those patients work through their “behavioral abnormality.” Getting through that tiered system takes varying amounts of time and work depending upon what each individual person is facing, she said. Some people enter the system already having addressed their issues in prison and for some this will be the first sex offender treatment they will have received.
Jessica Marsh, general counsel for the Texas Civil Commitment Office, said three people have been released from that facility since the state made changes to the program in 2015.
Faseler said that tiers one through four take place at the Littlefield facility and tier five takes place out in the community.
“Each tier builds on the last,” Faseler said.
Each one has set tasks and targets for them to accomplish to be able to move on and up to the next tier. Once a person gets to tier five, Faseler said, they are still supervised by a case manager and wear a GPS monitor that tracks their location in real-time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“They have home visits, field visits at their place of employment and they have to abide by a schedule that they work out with their case manager,” Faseler said.
Joiner, like everyone else who has been committed to the program, will see his case reviewed every two years by a judge. They go through a formal review that is sent to a judge. If the judge sees something about the reports he receives to indicate that Joiner no longer suffers from the behavioral abnormality, then the judge can order a new hearing on that issue.
While the Grayson County District Attorney’s Office helped Faseler with the case by providing documents she needed to put the case together, no one from that office participated in the trial.