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Prosecutor offers insight on sex offenders

L.A. attorney speaks to Kiwanis Club about his work with the Sexually Violent Predators Unit.

February 15, 2012|By Daniel Siegal, daniel.siegal@latimes.com

The inner workings of a little-known criminal justice program got a first-hand deposition Wednesday during a Kiwanis Club of La Cañada meeting.

Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Atty. Gregg Martin, a La Cañada resident, gave a presentation to the club about his work as a prosecutor with the Sexually Violent Predators Unit, which evaluates convicted violent sex offenders.

“I've always had a prosecutor's mind set, and I feel honored to have had the privilege to do what I think is right,” he told the club during its luncheon meeting in Van de Kamp Hall at Descanso Gardens.

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Club members were surprised to learn that Martin doesn't just work as a lawyer — as an actor, he's played one too, and is currently performing as Atticus Finch in a performance of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Martin led off his presentation by performing his final scene from the play, in which Finch gives an impassioned defense of his client, as a way to illuminate his own feelings about the judicial system.

“It might not be a perfect system, but it's the best system that's ever been devised,” he said.

Afterward, Martin explained the Sexually Violent Predators Unit, a little-known program formed in 1996. Its work involves taking a look at the “worst of the worst” violent sexual offenders already convicted and incarcerated to see if they have a mental illness and a likelihood of re-offending.

Of the 6,000 cases referred to the unit each year, about 2% make it to Martin's office, he said. Of that 2%, roughly one-half to two-thirds are tried and committed to a state mental institution. Around 600 offenders have been committed since 1996.

After Martin's presentation, Kiwanis Club member Clyde Hemphill said he learned something new at the meeting.

“It was thought-provoking,” he said.

Martin's opening performance may have drawn the most interest, however.

“Well, you can tell he's an actor,” Hemphill said. “I thought I was sitting in a jury box.”

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