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AGASSIZ - An inmate was killed and another hospitalized in what corrections officials are calling a "major disturbance" Saturday night at Mountain Institution in Agassiz.
The trouble began shortly before 10 p.m. when inmates began breaking windows in the gymnasium. Violence erupted and Michael Andrew Gibbon, 39, was beaten to death. He had been serving an indeterminate sentence for sexual offenses.
There were no major injuries to staff. The reason for the disturbance was not immediately known.
Mountain Institution currently keeps 442 inmates at its medium-security facility 120 kilometres east of Vancouver.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
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MANSFIELD -- Paul Burton was trying to rebuild his life.
He needed to find an employer willing to take a chance on a convicted rapist. Burton, 51, served 14 years in prison for raping a minor. Finding a job wouldn't be easy, especially when he had to schedule his work around sex offender treatment at the local Volunteers of America.
Burton put in 59 applications and was turned down 59 times. He wasn't without skills. Burton was a welder with 29 years of experience. In addition, he served four years in the U.S. Army, receiving an honorable discharge in 1982.
Burton also had the rape conviction and a Tier III designation, the worst of sex offenders. He has to register with the county sheriff where he lives every 90 days for the rest of his life.
"I'm not asking anybody to trust me," Burton said. "I'm asking them to give me the chance to prove I can be trusted."
After being turned down time after time, Burton found a local manufacturing company willing to give him an opportunity. He started work there in December. Company officials have been pleased with the hire, even writing a letter of support to the Adult Parole Authority.
But because of a local policy, Burton was going to lose his job and his chance at starting over.
About 10 to 12 years ago, local judges, law enforcement, probation and parole officers, halfway houses and treatment programs formed an agreement regarding sex offenders.
"When people come into this county from outside, they should return to their home county," Richland County chief probation officer Dave Leitenberger said. "That's where their lives were from, and that's where they need to start their lives over, not Richland County.
"If they can do it here, they can do it back in their home community."
For Burton, that would mean going back to Montgomery County in the Dayton area after completing a 14-month stint at the VOA.
Mansfield police Chief Phil Messer has been probably the most outspoken critic of the VOA. He feels little sympathy for people like Burton.
"We are inputting sex offenders from all over the state," Messer said. "This guy is a prime example. When he was approved for treatment, he knew what the rules were."
Burton said 60 days before he was scheduled to be released from prison, he filled out a parole plan. He listed Dayton, Cincinnati, Lebanon and Mansfield -- in that order -- as potential places where he would prefer to go to a halfway house.
Burton spent an additional two and a half months in prison because there were no beds at any of the facilities. When the local VOA had a spot, he took it.
Located on North Main Street, the VOA is one of the only facilities of its kind in the state, which is why so many sex offenders come to Mansfield. Messer said the city has more sex offenders per capita than any other place in the state.
"I'm not a big fan of the VOA, never have been and probably never will be," the chief said. "It is a huge threat for sex offenses in the community."
Messer said VOA residents committed four or five sex offenses in 2007.
"The threat, that always remains," he said.
Burton said his first rape occurred in 1990, his second in 1992. His girlfriend, who was not the victim, reported him to police after they had a falling-out in 1993.
"When the cops came, I told them what I did," Burton said. "It was a big relief, like a big anvil taken off my shoulders."
Burton said guilt plagued him, especially seeing his victim. He underwent four years of sex offender treatment in prison.
"I wanted to find out why at that time in my life, I did what I did," Burton said. "I needed to recognize it so it would never happen again. I wasn't in denial."
Burton was born in Moraine, about 10 miles south of Dayton. The youngest of three sons, Burton described his father as a Bible-toting Christian who never owned a car and his mother as an alcoholic. They divorced when he was 3.
Burton said he was physically and sexually abused by family members, but he never told his father. His counselors in prison told him that could have been a reason for his future crimes.
"The experts said you will repeat what you have learned," Burton said.
Six days after his 18th birthday, Burton found his father dead.
"I woke up on a Sunday morning and wondered why he hadn't gotten up for church," he said. "God said, 'Never mind, just come on home.' "
Burton and his oldest brother stayed in the house. The middle brother already had joined the Navy.
"I was scared about what was going to happen to me," Burton said. "There were a lot of things in my life I didn't know anything about."
About six months after his father died, Burton's mother returned. She didn't bring stability.
"When she found out she wasn't getting nothing, she left," Burton said.
Before Burton was released from prison, he met with Daniel Lipps of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
"We really try to provide intensive services on a lot of life-skill issues," Lipps said. "Paul was one of the most motivated clients I've worked with. He had a huge desire to succeed."
Lipps said Burton "literally walked the heels off a pair of shoes to find a job."
"From the first time we met Paul, we saw potential in him," he said. "The potential outweighed that negative that will always be with him."
Most potential employers didn't agree.
"One lady said, 'Your 29 years of experience was shot to pieces because of your offense.' That was the attitude of most places," Burton said. "Something like that could have took the life out of me. I kept on going. I kept on going."
Burton had to pay $100 a week for taxi services the first month for his out-of-town job because he had no car. He said supportive co-workers offered him rides.
"Everybody knows I'm a sex offender. They know I'm on parole," Burton said. "They treat me as another guy working."
Burton didn't get to search for a job until he had been at the VOA for more than four months.
Leitenberger and Messer would have preferred Burton get his treatment somewhere else.
"We don't want to discourage treatment because it is important," Leitenberger said. "Richland County has always been known as an excellent community for criminal services. At the same time, we're not opening our borders to bring in every offender.
"It's a community safety issue."
"I'm very, very adamant that for us to maintain a positive relationship with the VOA, offenders need to be sent back to their communities," he said. "For me as chief of police, it would not be responsible to not be passionate about the need to reduce the number of offenders in our community."
Burton said he is determined he will not reoffend. He said other inmates tried to sell pornographic magazines to sex offenders. He always declined.
"It's inappropriate thinking," he said. "I'm not going down that road."
Burton said he won't even allow himself to think of a stranger as being attractive, calling such a thought "negative." His goal is not to put himself in any compromising positions.
He disagrees with Messer, Leitenberger and anyone else who would limit where he can work.
"The economy is really bad right now," Burton said. "If you make us (sex offenders) unemployed, we're not going to do anybody any good. The only option we will have is to be unsuccessful."
Burton said having a job improves a person's self-esteem.
Burton and his parole officer recently reached a compromise on his relocation. He won't have to go back to Montgomery County. Burton completed his stint at the VOA on Friday and moved into an apartment in Marion. He will commute to his job in Richland County but otherwise is not allowed to be here unless he is meeting with his parole officer.
It's enough for him.
"All I want to do is work," Burton said. "I don't care what anybody thinks of me."
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Mark Lunsford received a wealth of goodwill as the bereaved father traveled the country telling the heartbreaking story of his daughter's disappearance and death.
Attitudes appeared to change last month after he announced his intention to sue the law enforcement officers who came to his aid in those trying times. It prompted those same neighbors who helped Lunsford search, mourn and advocate for his 9-year-old daughter to turn a skeptical eye toward his every move and question whether his motives were financial.
Lunsford withdrew his planned lawsuit Friday, but the controversy could still hurt the Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation Inc., the nonprofit organization Lunsford created in 2005 to help increase public awareness and push for tougher laws against sex offenders like the one who killed his daughter.
Supporters believe the whole episode, no matter how out-of-context, could still cripple the foundation's reputation and future.
Spurred by a local radio shock jock's inflammatory remarks about the foundation, many became skeptical about its finances and spread wild accusations about misspent money, luxury car purchases and exorbitant salaries.
A St. Petersburg Times review of the foundation's publicly available tax forms found most of the claims are unsubstantiated. But the analysis, in combination with interviews with experts and board members, revealed a troubled nonprofit plagued by flawed management and insufficient record keeping.
"I think if things had been done better, we would not have had some issues," acknowledged Mark Kloeppel, the foundation's attorney.
At the head of the organization is Lunsford, a high school-educated truck driver with no prior leadership experience. He was a single father who lived in a mobile home with his parents and leaned on them to help care for his daughter. He wore tattoos, a long ponytail of wiry hair and had a roughneck past.
His life changed after Jessica's death three years ago. Almost overnight, he became a powerful crusader for children, a frequent television commentator, and in many ways, famous.
Lunsford is consumed by his mission to pass Jessica's Law in every state. More than 30 already have. But as foundation president he struggles to fulfill his role managing the day-to-day affairs, and the board of directors provides minimal oversight.
"He's sort of a one-man show," said board member Jude Hagin, an Ocala film commissioner, who said she hasn't talked to Lunsford in months. "We have little role in it because he is always traveling and trying to save one little child at a time."
To fill the leadership vacuum, Lunsford hired directors and staff to help manage the organization. But bad choices plagued the process from the start.
Board member Joseph Boles was fired after he trashed a Sarasota hotel room, causing $4,800 in damage, while attending a foundation event. In 2006, Kansas state Rep. Patricia Kilpatrick — hired as legislative director — was terminated after Lunsford learned she faced civil lawsuits for passing bad checks, criminal charges for shoplifting and state sanctions for campaign finance violations. And in 2007, Lunsford hired Carey Sanders, the son of a former board member, as director only to show him the door months later because he couldn't do the job.
The foundation still lacks a leader who can steer the organization and bring in the big dollars needed to keep it strong.
"I think what Mark's interested in is changing policy and not raising money," Hagin said.
The foundation relies entirely on public support, so fundraising is key.
Initially, the money came easy. Lunsford received $50,000 in the 24 days after his daughter disappeared. Supporters held motorcycle rallies, races and festivals in Jessica's name.
But financial documents filed by the foundation show it remains a relatively small operation. In its first two years ending July 2007, the foundation received about $285,000 in donations. The organization's most recent assets were reported at $102,000.
The Internal Revenue Service records show growing signs of financial trouble. In the 2006 fiscal year, the latest figures available, contributions grew 10 percent while fundraising costs grew 170 percent. The bulk of the foundation's money went to pay salary and travel costs for Lunsford.
In the 2006 fiscal year, he earned $54,800, which is more than double his salary the previous year, records show. In addition, he received health insurance and charged the foundation for most of his expenses. In a recent interview at his parents' home in Homosassa, Lunsford deflected criticism, saying the board sets his salary.
It's not uncommon for foundation leaders to earn salaries — some make much more — but many smaller organizations often don't pay staff.
Lunsford couldn't clarify other questionable expenses in the documents without going through receipts, including a two-year travel bill totaling more than $40,000 and a one-year expense of nearly $14,000 for "entertainment." Amid this recent scrutiny, he acknowledged that he fired his treasurer and hired a professional accounting firm from Jacksonville.
The bookkeeping change meant Lunsford also couldn't explain why a number of big-ticket items weren't shown in the foundation's public tax forms. Among the known transactions missing:
• The $15,000 in early donations Lunsford used to buy a 2002 Chevy truck.
• The custom motorcycle with Jessica's image, worth an estimated $80,000, that was made by Santiago Chopper and donated to the foundation. (Lunsford said it was never donated, but Santiago owner Alan Bernard said the opposite.)
• A tour bus of undetermined value donated by a California company that now rests behind the home of Lunsford's parents in Homosassa.
By contrast, the financial records show relatively few dollars — about $10,000 in two years — provided direct assistance to child support groups, which is another tenet of the foundation's mission.
Lunsford said the books don't show all the good things the foundation has done in recent years, including the $100,000 it raised for a playground at Homosassa Elementary and the $11,000 it donated to a Citrus County child advocacy center.
Lunsford is defensive about criticism of the foundation, but also willing to admit his shortcomings.
"All I wanted to do was advocate for kids, and then I find out that in order to do that you had to be able to run an organization," he said. "So it's been a really big, big learning experience."
Nonprofit management experts attest to his difficult journey and explain that any criticism of management is largely subjective. "There are no hard and fast rules about how a foundation operates," said Joan Pynes, a professor at the University of South Florida. "It's typically people who have some kind of cash who start foundations. I don't think there are many truck drivers."
Other parents of victims have made a similar transition by dedicating their lives to a cause, and even those with advanced degrees and business management experience attest to adversity.
"You're building a corporation in a day, and if you don't have any experience with that & it's not an easy thing to do," said Marc Klaas, a former business owner who is now the president of Klaas Kids and Beyond Missing, two nonprofits launched in memory of his 12-year-old daughter Polly who was murdered in 1993.
These parents also walk a fine line as they try to create change. Klaas said he considered suing the authorities who botched his daughter's investigation, but instead decided to work with them to improve policies. Even so, Klaas supported Lunsford's now-withdrawn lawsuit threat, but not all parent-advocates felt the same.
"We don't like a lot of the things (Lunsford's) doing," said Claudine Ryce, who manages a Florida nonprofit in the memory of her son Jimmy Ryce. "We don't think that's the way to fund the nonprofit."
Foundation board members acknowledge they expect a drop in donations going forward, but it could be negated by an unexpected influx of cash in 2007: Gov. Charlie Crist gave a $63,750 check last year from his unspent inaugural ball account.
Lunsford appears content to continue his focus on advocacy. In January, he formed a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, called Support Jessie's Law Inc., to handle lobbying. The original foundation, as a tax-deductible organization, could not explicitly engage in political activities, said lawyer Kloeppel, who added he has already talked with two lobbyists, at the state and federal level.
"I just have goals I want to reach and then I'm done," Lunsford said. "I'm telling you I'd much rather drive a truck. And if someone can please tell me how to get back my daughter, you can have this and I'll drive a truck. But until I get back my daughter, this is the way it's going to be."
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.
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Petitions pouring in against Adam Walsh Act
In May 2007, Michael Bronaka pleaded guilty to three counts of pandering obscenity involving a minor.
The former Munson Township man was sentenced to two years in prison by Lake County Common Pleas Judge Richard L. Collins Jr.
As part of the plea bargain, Bronaka accepted the fact that he will be labeled a sexually oriented offender, meaning he must register his work, home and school addresses with authorities for 10 years.
But had he known a controversial new sexual predator law would go into effect just months later, his attorney, Dean Boland, said he might never have admitted guilt in the first place.
Bronaka is just one of 25,000 Ohio offenders slated to be reclassified under the Adam Walsh Act, named after the son of John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted." Adam was raped and murdered.
"He agreed to plead guilty based on a promise by the state of Ohio," Boland said at a recent court hearing protesting the reclassification. "This statute purports to be retroactive, and the Ohio Constitution expressly forbids retroactive interpretation of laws. He'll now have 150 percent more years to register as a sexual offender. He'll go from 10 years to 25."
The Adam Walsh Act has only been in effect since Jan. 1, but the petitions protesting the controversial new sexual predator law are already pouring in.
Bronaka, the owner of Bronco Machine in Willoughby, was caught with more than 1,000 images of child pornography at his Apollo Parkway shop.
However, he had no prior criminal record and never attempted to contact any of the children.
Boland and other defense attorneys are arguing the law is unconstitutional.
"Let's say you pled guilty to a traffic violation and they told you you'd have two points on your license for two years and a $100 fine," attorney Nancy Biddell said. "Then, years later, they come back and tell you your two points won't come off, ever. Then they tell you you'll have to pay the $100 fine every three months - for the rest of your life."
Judges used to have the discretion to base sex offense rankings on how serious the crime is and how likely the defendant is to re-offend.
The new law now classifies offenders from Tier I to Tier III - which correlate with the previous rankings of sexually oriented offender, habitual offender and predator - based solely on the crime of which the person was convicted.
The Adam Walsh Act increases two of those periods - Tier I to 15 years from 10 years and Tier II to 25 years from 10. Tier III is still for life. The act even makes it possible that someone who commits a nonsexual crime could be classified as a sexual predator.
Biddell said she thinks the Ohio Supreme Court eventually will side with defense attorneys.
"It's actually like double jeopardy," she said. "How can you tell someone they'll be done registering after 10 years, then later tell them it has to be every 90 days for the rest of their life?
"For some of these people, it was not forcible rape. Sometimes it's consensual sex. Yes, it's still wrong, but it's not the same thing as a forcible rape. But this person in their whole life can't get rid of this. It's really, really crazy."
Biddell is fighting for one of her clients who already has served his prison time and was never before subject to community notification.
"He went from a Tier I to a Tier III," she said. "He got judicial release for good behavior. He has a job as a computer programmer. He's an instrumentalist at his church. This is way out of character for this guy.
"He made a terrible mistake, but he did his time. Now, he can't even have his own children, because if he has to go into community notification, the school system will have to know he's a sex offender."
Supporters speak out
To bring Ohio into compliance with the federal law, state Attorney General Marc Dann helped to craft the legislation with members of Ohio's General Assembly, Gov. Ted Strickland's office and other interested parties.
The legislation, Senate Bill 10, passed through the Ohio General Assembly in June and was signed by Gov. Ted Strickland.
Dann said the law ensures the public is safer.
"I commend Ohio lawmakers - in particular - for seeing the profound importance this legislation will have on the children of Ohio," Dann said in a statement issued after state lawmakers passed the bill.
"Our children must be protected from those who aim to harm them. Compliance with Adam Walsh overhauls our sex offender registry and makes absolutely sure that 'phantom' sex offenders cannot move from state to state without detection. This law is critical to keeping our kids, our families, and our neighborhoods safe."
State Sen. Tim Grendell, R-Chester Township, who voted for the bill, said people who commit these acts need to be held accountable.
"We're not creating sexual offenders," he said. "They are the ones committing the crime. If you don't want the label, don't commit the crime."
A constitutional issue
As of March 20, 74 appeals have been filed in Lake County alone, said Sheriff's Deputy Mike Perry, one of two deputies who register sex offenders in the county.
- Keep it up, flood the injustice system with complaints. They will break sooner or later!!
"I didn't expect that many," Perry said.
In several cases so far, the judge has agreed to keep a defendant at a lower tier, Perry said. A few have won the right to continue to have no community notification in their case.
"There's a lot of controversy throughout the state about this," Lake County Common Pleas Judge Paul H. Mitrovich said. "But the courts seem to be handling the situation well. We planned ahead and got them started early so there wouldn't be a backlog."
Mitrovich added that he already has disposed of 12 such cases without granting a single petition.
"The lawyers are coming in making constitutional arguments for the record," the judge said. "I'm not in a position to decide the constitutionality. That's for the Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court."
On Oct. 15, the Ohio Public Defender's Office, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio Foundation and Equal Justice Foundation filed a direct action in the Supreme Court of Ohio, challenging the constitutionality of SB 10's retroactive application.
The complaint asserted that SB 10 violated the ex post facto, double jeopardy and separation of powers provisions of the Ohio Constitution and the U.S. Constitution.
The Ohio Supreme Court dismissed the case in December.
A wait-and-see approach
Geauga County Common Pleas Court has had about 18 appeals so far, Judge Forrest W. Burt said.
"We put a stay on all hearings, pending a decision by the Supreme Court," the judge said. "For now, we're ordering them to keep registering (as they were before the law was passed)."
As for Bronaka, Collins recently denied the petition because of a lack of jurisdiction.
However, the judge said he found the Adam Walsh Act neither unconstitutional nor punitive.
"There's been no violation of the double jeopardy provision in the Constitution," said the judge.
"The law is not punishment. We're just dealing with reporting requirements to protect the community."