A Rock Hill man, convicted twice in the past decade of sexual assault on girls younger than age 10, will not be released from prison despite his sentence being up, a jury decided Tuesday.
The York County jury took less than 30 minutes to rule that Gary Lee Burris, 64, is a sexually violent predator.
Burris, a registered sex offender, assaulted a girl for the second time in 2015, after he was released from prison, prosecutors say. He was first convicted of criminal sexual conduct with another girl in a 2009 incident, prosecutors with the S.C. Attorney General’s Office said.
Burris completed a two-year sentence for his conviction on the second assault and was set to be released from prison again.
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Before Burris could be freed, prosecutors brought a civil lawsuit against him under South Carolina’s sexually violent predator law to keep him from being released. The law targets convicted molesters whom medical testing shows have a likelihood of re-offending. The law allows state prosecutors to seek continued confinement and treatment instead of release from prison.
The law is rarely used, and only against those seen as threats to the public. Fewer than 250 of the state’s thousands of convicted sex offenders have been targeted for continued confinement under the law since its inception in 1998, prosecutors say.
South Carolina is one of 20 states with such laws, according to the Association for Treatment of Sexual Abusers. The federal government also has authority to seek keeping sexual molesters incarcerated through civil action.
A psychiatrist testified in the civil trial in York Monday that Burris has pedophilia and can’t control himself, said James Bogle, assistant state attorney general.
Burris has a “mental abnormality and personality disorder” that makes him unsafe for the public if he is released without further treatment, Bogle said.
“He was barely out of prison and he did it again,” Bogle told jurors in his closing argument. “This means he is a menace to society who is likely to re-offend.”
Burris did not testify or speak in court. But his appointed lawyer, Anna Rawl Browder, told jurors that an expert put Burris near the bottom of testing percentages to re-offend, and that state prosecutors had already convicted him of his crimes.
Yet the jury offered its verdict in less than a half hour Tuesday, following the two-day trial.
Burris was sent for treatment at a S.C. Department of Mental Health institution. He will be re-examined by health care providers at least yearly, prosecutors say, and can seek release after treatment.