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Jury finds Wolfenbarger still violent predator

By Rob Young/Appeal-Democrat

May 30, 2008 - 11:42PM

A man who abducted and raped a 6-year-old Yuba County girl in 1987 should still be considered a sexually violent predator, Yuba County jurors decided Friday.

Jim Dean Wolfenbarger has completed his prison sentence for the crime, but the jury's verdict means he will be returned to Coalinga State Hospital for an indefinite period "until he is qualified to be released," said Deputy District Attorney Brad Enos.

Jurors deliberated Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. The hearing lasted three weeks. A ruling in Wolfenbarger's favor would have meant his immediate release.

The Yuba County District Attorney's office petitioned the court to keep Wolfenbarger confined.

The jury's decision left Wolfenbarger's relatives in tears.

"I just wish he'd had the opportunity to show he's changed," said Wolfenbarger's sister, Leah, who did not give her last name.

Her brother's crime was unforgivable, Leah said, "but that's not all a person is."

Wolfenbarger "has truly changed," she said, but being released is the only way he can prove it, she said.

To see Wolfenbarger go from "the lowest depth" to a rehabilitated life of freedom would be "a thing of beauty," she said.

"Our hearts truly go out to the victim," said Leah, who shook hands with jurors.

Wolfenbarger abducted the girl just 37 days after completing a prison sentence for abducting, raping and sodomizing a woman cab driver from Reno, Nev.

Wolfenbarger, a Jehovah's Witness, said he underwent a gradual religious conversion while in prison. But Enos said he did not believe Wolfenbarger has truly changed, pointing to his failure to complete a program for sexual offenders while behind bars.

In a lengthy relapse prevention plan that Wolfenbarger wrote while at Coalinga State Hospital, he argued that he would have a support network of Jehovah's Witnesses on the outside.

But the plan only proves that Wolfenbarger "can talk and talk," said Enos, quoting a psychologist who testified for the District Attorney's Office.

A juror, Terry Stewart of Plumas Lake, said the panel "didn't see enough of an attempt at reform."

"The evidence was clear," he said. It wasn't just the girl's abduction that worked against Wolfenbarger, "it was all the evidence — and there was so much of it," said Stewart.



'He certainly didn’t learn'

Psychologist: Wolfenbarger still a violent sexual predator

May 21, 2008 12:05:00 AM

By Rob Young/Appeal-Democrat

A psychologist told Yuba County jurors Tuesday that a man who abducted and sexually assaulted a 6-year-old girl in 1987 should still be considered a sexually violent predator.

Jim Dean Wolfenbarger, 48, is petitioning for release from a state mental hospital where Judge James Curry sent him more than five years ago. Wolfenbarger was sentenced in 1988 to 27 years, 10 months in prison.

Clinical psychologist Robert Owen of San Luis Obispo testified that Wolfenbarger had been out of prison for only 37 days in November 1987 when he grabbed the girl from a Yuba County bus stop and forced her to perform oral sex.

Wolfenbarger had been in prison for kidnapping a 34-year-old Reno cab driver and taking her to Nevada County, where he raped and sodomized her, said Owen.

Two weeks before the assault on the 6-year-old, Wolfenbarger tried unsuccessfully to abduct a 16-year-old girl on a Yuba County road, Owen said.

"He certainly didn't learn any lessons" in prison, said Owen. "The problem was escalating, not getting better."

Wolfenbarger's history of assault makes him a paraphiliac who is aroused by abducting and controlling vulnerable females, the psychologist said.

Wolfenbarger's attorney, David Vasquez, said defense psychologists will counter Owen's opinion during the civil hearing, which is expected to continue into next week.

While in prison in 1996, Wolfenbarger, a Jehovah's Witness, said he underwent a religious conversion. But in a 2002 prison interview, Wolfenbarger continued to lie about his crimes and blame his victims, Owen said.

"It was a big ruse, a big sham for everyone," he said.

Even if the conversion was genuine, studies have shown "no relation" to sex offenders reoffending, said Owen.

In the 2002 interview, Wolfenbarger admitted being aroused by memories of a TV movie in which actress Sela Ward was bound to a bed. In a second interview early this year, Wolfenbarger tried to "sanitize" the story by saying he was aroused by the actress's underwear, not by the bindings, said Owen.

"That's not my idea of progress. The ongoing denial is troubling," said Owen, who has evaluated hundreds of sex offenders.

Although Wolfenbarger dealt with his anger management and alcohol abuse problems while in prison, he attended sex offender sessions only briefly before dropping out, Owen said.

"Paraphilia is not a problem that magically goes away," said Owen. "I think the problem is entrenched. He hasn't done anything to make it go away."

Some paraphiliacs learn to control their impulses, but Wolfenbarger's self-control "has been very, very poor," he said.

While the case continues in Yuba County Superior Court, Wolfenbarger is pursuing a federal lawsuit against the county, former Sheriff Virginia Black, Sheriff Steve Durfor and others.

Wolfenbarger claims his civil rights were violated while he was held in Yuba County Jail from July to December 2002, from November 2003 to February 2004 and from December 2004 to April 2005.

Earlier this year, a federal magistrate judge in Sacramento tossed out much of Wolfenbarger's case, which he filed in 2003, but some claims still remain.

Contact Appeal-Democrat reporter Rob Young at 749-4710 or at


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