Notorious escapee from 1990s back on trial in Saratoga County

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One of the area’s most notorious criminals was back in court in Saratoga County on Tuesday.

Joel O’Keefe, the target of a two-week, multi-state manhunt, is being tried as the state tries to prove he’s dangerous and needs to be confined.

It’s been 28 years since O’Keefe was inside a Saratoga County courtroom. 

Last time he was there, he pleaded guilty to burglarizing a Round Lake home and sexually assaulting a woman at knifepoint.

That conviction was after he had escaped from police custody and was the target of two-week, multi-state manhunt.

Prosecutors said he also tried to escape from prison three times through the years, extending his sentence each time.

O’Keefe was finally released in March 2018, and allowed to live in a cabin in the woods of Washington County.

During an exclusive interview at the time, he said he just wanted to live his life. However, just a few months later, he was drawing the attention of police and parole officers for approaching and propositioning women in Glens Falls, Queensbury and Saratoga Springs.

The Attorney General’s Office says he approached or followed at least six women during that summer, handing some of them cards offering them a “hot hookup.” He was taken into custody for violating his parole.

All of this was spelled out during opening statements on Tuesday in his civil confinement trial. The state argues he shouldn’t be allowed to walk free because he’s unable to control his sexual urges.

The jury will decide if O’Keefe is a sex offender who suffers from a mental abnormality that predisposes him to commit sex offenses and that results in him having serious difficulty controlling his conduct.

From 2018: Joel O’Keefe says he’s not a violent man

The attorneys representing O’Keefe made it clear to the jury that he’s not trying to get out of anything, and reminding the 11 women and one man that just because O’Keefe is awkward doesn’t mean he’s predisposed to sex offenses.

“You’re not going like Joel. There’s no question about that. You’re going to spend the next several days really learning how much you don’t like Joel O’Keefe,” said Matthew Bliss, with the New York State Mental Hygiene Legal Services. “We’re going to show that he’s able to control himself, and we are going to do that by showing those awkward interactions that he has did not result in any arrest for sexual offense.” “Joel is not asking to get out of anything. The state is asking for you to direct that Joel get something more,” he continued.

If the jury finds that O’Keefe is a sex offender who can’t control his urges, then it will be up to Judge Dianne Freestone to determine what the confinement or supervision will look like.