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A convicted sex offender whose release from jail sparked a change in Utah's civil commitment laws will be allowed to stay free for good.
Utah County prosecutors have decided not to seek the civil commitment of Lonnie Hyrum Johnson because the 39-year-old man does not fit the criteria of the new law.
"There's nothing else I can do," prosecutor Craig Johnson, who is not related to the defendant, said Tuesday, the day the so-called "Lonnie Johnson law" went into affect.
Last month, 4th District Judge James Taylor found Johnson incompetent to stand trial on new sexual abuse charges. The judge made the same determination last year after doctors said the man was unable to assist his attorney in his defense and likely could never be restored to competency.
After Johnson's initial release last year from the Utah State Hospital, the Legislature passed a law that would allow forcibly committing sex offenders to a mental hospital. Before the change, such offenders could not be involuntarily held unless they were considered physically violent.
While prosecutor Craig Johnson said he believes Lonnie Johnson could pose a threat to his community, the man has a brain injury not a mental illness that could benefit from medication and is therefore cannot be committed.
Local mental health experts indicated Lonnie Johnson could kept at their facility for only a few months before he would likely be returned to live with his family in Alpine, officials said.
At Johnson's competency evaluation hearing last month, the mother of one of Johnson's alleged victims said she hoped the man would be committed, providing peace for her daughter.
"Anytime we have to see him we get sick bellies," the mother said. "At this point, we'd just be happy if it stopped. We don't need any more victims. In that way, we would get a small win."
On Tuesday, Craig Johnson said the end result was "frustrating" for the alleged victims and their families.
"The criminal case is at a standstill, probably infinitely," he said. "Hopefully, they'll be able to get some closure" now that decision regarding civil commitment has been made.
The prosecutor said Lonnie Johnson has complied with law enforcement's requests, including meeting with doctors for evaluations, while remaining free over the last year.
"There's no imminent threat that has reared its head in the last year," he said.
Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, who sponsored the new civil commitment legislation this year, said he feels the loophole that allowed Johnson to walk free has still been adequately closed.
"For a different kind of situation, it would be effective," he said. "It just so happens that Lonnie Johnson has a brain injury that is untreatable."