Illinois sex offender makes history

By Richard Snowden

For the first time in history, the state of Illinois has designated a female as a sexually dangerous person.

Eureka resident Tammy L. Wheeler, 17, agreed to the designation late last month after being charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse in April for allegedly fondling a four-year-old boy. Wheeler also admitted during a court hearing that she had molested two other children.

The decision makes Wheeler the first woman on a statewide list of 138 persons designated as sexually dangerous.

“It’s an unusual case in that the offender is a female,” said Woodford County State’s Attorney Mike Stroh. “The vast majority of sex offenses are committed by males.”

No criminal charges filed

The aggravated criminal sexual abuse charge, a Class 2 felony that carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison, has been bypassed in favor of a civil commitment via the sexually dangerous designation.

Stroh explained Wheeler’s age also played a role in the decision to apply the designation.

“Her age was one factor among several that were taken into consideration in addressing the case,” he said. “We have to evaluate each case on an individual basis and in this particular case, taking all the evidence into consideration, we felt that it was best to proceed with the sexually dangerous persons petition instead of pursuing the criminal charges.”

According to the petition, mental health experts examined Wheeler and determined she suffers from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder due to childhood sexual and physical abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder marked by a primary sexual obsession and borderline mental retardation.

The statutory definition of sexually dangerous requires that a person suffer from a mental disorder that has existed for at least one year prior to filing the petition, have a demonstrated criminal propensity toward committing sex offenses and have a demonstrated propensity toward acts of sexual assault or molestation of children.

More options for the courts

In cases of this sort, applying the sexually dangerous designation offers the court system a greater breadth of options, said LeRoy Pernell, dean and professor of law at the College of Law.

“The general purpose of these types of designations is to give the courts wider sentencing leeway,” Pernell said. “They also typically mandate some type of treatment response in conjunction with any penal sentence that may be imposed.”

The decision leaves Wheeler indefinitely in the custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections. In order to be released, she would have to demonstrate that she has sufficiently recovered and no longer poses a sexual threat.

According to state law, persons designated sexually dangerous must register with the state and reregister every 90 days for the remainder of their lives.