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Convicted child molester Lawrence Rudy Kirk is back in Sonoma County Superior Court, making his third bid for freedom in about a dozen years.

But this could be the last chance for Kirk, 65, who has been declared a sexually violent predator for repeatedly molesting pre-teenage girls and has been kept in custody beyond his prison sentence.

Kirk was committed to a state mental hospital and his right to a review every two years was struck down by California voters since his last appearance. He faces the possibility of a lifetime commitment in a state mental hospital if he fails to win release this time.

Kirk is among a handful of Sonoma County defendants to face tougher penalties in the wake of the 2006 initiative, Proposition 83, which makes more people eligible for the sexually violent predator designation.

The new law prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of parks and schools, requires lifetime GPS monitoring for the most dangerous offenders and reduces the number of prior victims to qualify the offender for the designation.

Among its most controversial provisions is the requirement that sexually violent predators be committed to a state mental hospital for an undetermined period of time rather than the automatic review ever two years. Now the burden is on the inmate, who is required to initiate and prove that he deserves a review.

Since 2006, eight Sonoma County offenders have received the commitments and seven, including Kirk, are pending, said Joan Risse, the chief deputy district attorney in charge of special prosecutions.

So far, only one person has been released to the public, she said.

Risse said under the new law, those who get committed will remain institutionalized unless they undergo treatment and can prove they are cured, Risse said.

"This is a small but extremely dangerous group of individuals who are going to act out," Risse said. "I think the Legislature felt there should be no need to have additional victims to put them away."

Prosecutors want to keep him committed, with health care experts calling the one-time cable TV installer a chronic pedophile with a diagnosed mental disorder and a person likely to molest again.

"If he wants something sexual he will be quite persistent, even if it means going into people's homes," forensic psychologist Dawn Starr testified in an ongoing civil trial over Kirk's fate.

But the law has its critics and has been challenged in the state Supreme Court. Defense lawyers say the inmates who have completed their sentence are being punished differently than other felons. A ballot argument against the measure said it would cost taxpayers $500 million.

John Abrahams, Sonoma County's public defender, said the changes could fill state hospitals with aging molesters who no longer pose a threat. The cost to care for them over the years may outweigh the risks, he said.

"It certainly raises the stakes for us," said Abrahams, whose office is appointed to the cases. "We only get one bite at the apple."

Risse said the financial cost is not the issue:

"You're going to pay for them one way or the other, whether it's a state hospital or prison," Risse said.

The sexually violent predator law first was enacted in 1996 as a means to protect children by keeping molesters in prison longer and preventing them from being near places where kids congregate.

It applied to those who had been convicted of sexually violent offenses against at least two victims and was triggered by the state Department of Corrections at the time of parole.

Offenders get referred for evaluation to the Department of Mental Health, where psychologists determine their risk of re-offending and whether they are suffering a mental disorder. A civil commitment trial follows at the county level.

In its first incarnation, the offender could be held for up to two years of treatment, renewable every two years until the person was deemed no longer dangerous.

In 2006, California voters adopted Jessica's law, strengthening the state's control over sexually violent predators. The law was named after Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, assaulted and buried alive by a convicted sex offender who failed to report where he lived. Among other things, the new law creates "predator-free zones" around schools and parks, adopts electronic monitoring and the longer commitments.

The California Supreme Court this year rejected legal challenges to the law, including that it constitutes ex post facto punishment of criminals.

Kirk has a record of child-sex offenses dating back to the 1970s. He was convicted in 1978 of molesting an 8-year-old girl whom he infected with gonorrhea and was sent to Patton State Hospital for four years. Two years after his release, he was convicted of molesting a 12-year-old girl and sentenced to 11 years in prison. He was paroled after two years.

He struck again in 1989, this time molesting a 13-year-old girl whose mother he met at traffic school. Kirk was sentenced to 29 years in prison after being convicted of a 10-count indictment, but it was reduced on appeal to a 15-year term. He was released in 1998 but was picked up for a parole violation and subsequently held under the violent predator law, first at Atascadero and later at Coalinga State Hospital.

He has been recommitted twice since his last conviction on grounds that he was violent and suffered a mental disorder.

In interviews, Kirk admitted sexual desires for girls 8-10 and bestiality. He claimed to have consensual sex with his victims and has refused treatment, according to testimony.

One psychological test on Kirk said there was a 25 percent chance he would re-offend within five years if he is released.

A decision in the jury trial is expected by the end of next week.