Fort Worth

State’s first sex predator trial under new law held in Fort Worth

Von Michael Short
Von Michael Short Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department

A violent sexual offender convicted of a list of crimes in Tarrant County dating back to 1991 will be sent to the state’s new facility for repeat sex offenders under the civil commitment program, a Tarrant County judge decided Wednesday.

Von Michael Short’s record includes multiple convictions for sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated kidnapping and false imprisonment, according to a news release from the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.

Short, 47, is the first felon in the state to be civilly committed outside Montgomery County, where all state civil commitment cases were tried before a new law, SB 746, took effect in September .

The new law states that sexual offenders should be tried in the county where they were convicted.

“It gives each individual county ownership over their cases,” said Christy Jack, Texas Civil Commitment Office board chairwoman. “The district attorneys in those counties know those offenders better than anyone else.”

Under Texas’ civil commitment law, repeat sex offenders who have been deemed likely to commit new crimes may be ordered into a supervised treatment program by a judge on their release from prison.

Short was due to be discharged from prison in the fall after serving 25 years for his most recent convictions, the release said.

Instead, prosecutors sought to have Short civilly committed. So after he is released from prison, he will be sent to the state’s secure Littlefield facility, where the state sends all felons admitted to its civil commitment program.

While in prison, Short earned multiple college degrees and enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous classes, but he was also disciplined several time for aggressive behavior, according to the release.

In the civil commitment hearing before state District Judge Wayne Salvant, Tarrant County prosecutor Bill Vassar was joined by special prosecutor Mark Gault from Huntsville, the release said.

The prosecution called three witnesses, including a forensic psychologist, a psychiatrist and Short.

Salvant ordered that Short be committed after a jury found that he has a behavioral abnormality that makes him likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence, the news release said.

“Von Short is a sexually deviant and dangerous individual,” Vassar said. “During his 25 year imprisonment he never had sex offender treatment from a licensed professional. The jury’s verdict ensures that he will get the treatment he needs, and guarantees the citizens of Texas that he will be monitored 24 hours a day.”

Littlefield, about 40 miles from Lubbock, was chosen as the site for the new state “facility” — not a prison — after a monthslong search for a suitable location to house felons who had served their prison time but were judged likely to re-offend.

While at Littlefield, Short’s status will be reviewed twice a year by a psychiatric team, the release said. Committed offenders remain in the state’s program until a judge decides they can be released to a less restrictive setting.

Since 1998, however, none of the more than 350 men ordered into the program have been allowed to complete the program and be released; nearly half have been sent back to prison for violating program rules, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The Legislature overhauled the program last year amid fears that it violated Constitutional guarantees.

Michael Seiler, the Conroe judge who presided for years over the state’s troubled civil commitment program for sex offenders, resigned his post in February as part of a deal with prosecutors that ended a criminal investigation into a campaign mailing he sent to former jurors, the Chronicle reported.

Before his resignation, lawmakers stripped Seiler of his authority over all of Texas’ civil commitments after he was reprimanded by a state judicial commission for perceived bias against certain offenders and their attorneys.

Mitch Mitchell: 817-390-7752, @mitchmitchel3