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Sex offender's residency at issue pending parole probe

A sex offender may be allowed to continue living on Gallatin Avenue in Buffalo, depending on the result of a state parole investigation of the suitability of the location.

In a court session last week, State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. seemed ready to allow Michael W. Matter, 46, to live on Gallatin Avenue. However, he ordered the attorneys back to court Nov. 15 for more discussion.

Matter, who lived in Kenmore at the time, went to prison in 1997 after pleading guilty to one felony in Erie County and two felonies in Niagara County for molesting the same two sisters.

His sentence ran out in 2008, but he was caught in the "civil confinement" process.

That state law allows the state Office of Mental Health to send psychologists to examine sex offenders shortly before their prison terms expire to decide if they might have mental abnormalities making them likely to commit more sex crimes.

If the offender is flagged for possible confinement, he goes from prison to a mental institution, but he is entitled to a trial before either a judge or a six-member jury, in which the State Attorney General's Office tries to prove that he has the abnormality.

If the verdict is yes, the trial continues, with the state and the defense presenting witnesses for and against committing the offender to a mental institution for as long as the rest of his life.

If the judge decides against commitment, the offender goes under a tough parole program, known as Strict and Intensive Supervision and Treatment.

In March 2010, Kloch ordered Matter freed from the mental institution in which he'd been held since June 2008.

Kloch ruled that the state prison system miscalculated the date on which his prison sentence was to expire and decided that Matter should already have been released before the psychologists came to interview him.

Last December, Kloch agreed to let the state investigate Matter's mental condition to see if a civil confinement trial was warranted.

Thursday, Thomas J. Schoellkopf, head of the sex offender unit in the Attorney General's Office in Buffalo, told Kloch the probe is not complete.

He said that Matter changed addresses since the investigation began; Matter was living on Seneca Street in Buffalo at the time.

Margot S. Bennett, an attorney for state Mental Hygiene Legal Services, said her agency doesn't want the burden of finding a place for Matter to live if the Division of Parole decides against the Gallatin Avenue address.

"Buffalo police have said it's fine temporarily. It's one of those '90 days and you can apply for an extension' things," Bennett said.

She said if Matter were an ordinary patient being released from a mental hospital, there would be outpatient placement services, but nothing like that exists for sex offenders.

Kloch said finding somewhere for sex offenders to live that complies with the various buffer zone laws keeping them away from schools, parks and other places where children gather "is an ongoing problem for this court because of the 'scarlet letter' aspect of sex offenders."

Kloch said, "I'm convinced there's going to be a point in time where there's no place I can put a sex offender because of all the overlapping restrictions. The state is going to have to do something about [the civil confinement law]."