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A Florida man who once strangled his neighbor with a drapery cord and ripped off her fingernails has been released back into the community after serving less than half of his sentence, despite the objections of his former neighbors.
John Waterman, 54, has been released from involuntary confinement after two psychologists found that “within a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, that Mr. Waterman no longer poses a threat,” according to local station WFLA.
Waterman was originally sentenced to 45 years in prison for raping and killing his 36-year-old neighbor and raping another 31-year-old woman in crimes that had an eerie resemblance to the Patricia Cornwell novel “Postmortem.” A copy of the book was later found on Waterman’s bookshelf, according to The Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
But Waterman served just 20 years – or 44% of his original sentence – before being released because of good behavior behind bars.
Waterman was granted the early release because he was sentenced under the state’s older sentencing laws.
“The law now is that you have to serve 85% of your sentence,” Florida Assistant State Attorney Ryan Felix told People.
After his time in prison ended in 2011, he was sent to a privately run treatment facility for sex offenders and was involuntary held at the center under the Jimmy Ryce Act of 1998, which requires the state to evaluate sex offenders before they can be released.
The act was named after a 9-year-old boy who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a ranch hand, who was later executed for the gruesome crime.
On Monday, however, Judge Fredrick Mercurio ruled that Waterman no longer met the criteria to be civilly committed under the act after two psychologists testified that they believed he was no longer a risk to the community.
Dr. Robin Wilson said “within a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, that Mr. Waterman no longer poses a threat,” according to the local station.
Dr. Karen C. Parker agreed, saying that Waterman is “safe to be released to the community,” the paper reports.
Waterman, who has already been released, according to sex offender records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, has agreed to join an outpatient program for sex offenders in Lake Shore Village in Orlando.
But while the psychologists don’t believe he poses a risk to the community, Waterman’s former neighbors aren’t happy he is back on the streets.
“The community is kind of up in arms,” Susan Chapman, a lawyer and former president of the Hudson Bayou Neighborhood Association where Waterman and his victims lived, told People.
Neighborhood resident Rebecca Tharpe told the outlet that she hopes everyone knows how “dangerous” Waterman might be and said she feels sorry for the family of the victims who weren’t able to get true “justice” in the case.
“He’s a rapist and a murderer,” she said. “He’s also a kidnapper, because he kidnapped her and he raped her and he murdered her and he pulled her fingernails off. … He’s still a very viable man. And these crimes typically are not about the sex, it’s about the violence and the power. I think the fact that he’s been released, it’s terrible.”
At the time of the murder, Waterman had lived next door to Jackie Galloway. Galloway had been planning to go to lunch with a friend, but when the friend arrived at her home on June 12, 1991, she found the door of the home was unlocked and Galloway’s purse was on the couch. But there was no sign of the missing woman.
The next day, Galloway’s body was found in a field 10 miles from downtown Sarasota with her fingernails ripped off and a drapery cord tied around her neck. The body had been wrapped in a beige bed sheet.
Authorities were able to link Galloway to a sexual assault on Sept. 7, 1990. A 30-year-old single mother woke up to find a masked Waterman standing over the bed with a knife before she was raped, the news outlets report.
Tharpe told the Sarasota Herald Tribune that Waterman’s release has sent fear through the quiet neighborhood.
“They are very frightened," she said of her neighbors. "They understand he’s going to Orlando, but they understand he has ties here.”
Tharpe and Chapman are just hoping he doesn’t re-offend.
Waterman will have to complete the outpatient program at the Orlando center or could face a hearing that could land him back before the Florida Civil Commitment Center for another evaluation, the paper reports.
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