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FRANKLIN TWP - Officials are attempting to force a convicted sex offender who recently moved into the township to relocate on the grounds that he is in apparent violation of a local measure that restricts where pedophiles can live.
The 46-year-old is listed as Tier 3 sex offender, defined by Megan's Law as having the highest risk of re-offending. He resides in a property that is within approximately 100 feet of Mary F. Janvier Elementary School.
Mayor Frank Scavelli said the township has taken action to enforce its sex offender ordinance, which prohibits Tier 3 sex offenders from living within 3,500 feet of a school. However, the New Jersey Public Defender's Office is challenging the ordinance on behalf of the resident.
"We're going to do everything we can to enforce our ordinance or use any other legal means available to us, based on the recommendation of our solicitor, to protect our children," Scavelli said.
Convicted in Camden County of sexual assault on a female under the age of 13, the man served 512 years in prison, according to the state Department of Corrections Web site.
The Public Defender's Office has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court on behalf of the sex offender, referred to only by the initials A.B.
Deputy Public Defender Michael Buncher said the ordinance ignores state law, which already dictates that parole officers should determine where registered sex offenders may live.
"We contend that the township's plan, therefore, has been pre-empted by the state and is also inconsistent with what the state wants done, as reflected in Megan's Law," Buncher said.
Also, he said, the ordinance retroactively punishes sex offenders.
"If a person commits an offense, the law can't then be changed and made more severe than at the time the person violated the law," he said.
Lastly, he said, the ordinance is "irrational" and that the restrictive distances have no effect in safeguarding the community.
Details of A.B.'s charges were unavailable Friday.
The township's ordinance, adopted in October 2005, also restricts Tier 1 and Tier 2 sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet and 2,500 feet, respectively, of areas that children frequent.
It was previously challenged by the Public Defender's office on behalf of a 76-year-old man convicted of sexually assaulting his 6-year-old granddaughter and 3-year-old grandson. He lived 2,113 feet from Malaga Lake park. As a Tier 2 sex offender, the town's ordinance required him to live at least 2,500 feet from where children congregate.
The case was settled after the offender's tier level was changed so that the ordinance no longer applied to him.
Superior Court judges have found similar laws in Galloway, Cherry Hill and Lower townships to be invalid because they attempted to trump Megan's Law.
The courts also found the restrictive ordinances to be unconstitutional, violating the sex offenders' rights to live where they choose and punishing them a second time for their crime.
Still, some concerned Franklin Township residents say such restrictive ordinances are necessary. Jackie Lucas, of Franklinville, has started a petition that calls on state legislators to enact a measure allowing municipalities to enforce sex offender ordinances, like Franklin's.
"It's a major concern of ours that the state Public Defender's Office and the ACLU are trying to squash ordinances like ours that ... protect our children from these types of people," Lucas said.
Lucas, who has four children, one of whom attends Janvier, said the argument that sex offenders already served their time doesn't hold for her.
"Do the supporting groups really believe that the offenders have been reformed?" she asked. "Is there even an inkling of a doubt in their mind that the offender possibly could re-offend?"
Lucas said she would rather err on the side of caution.
"We have to protect our kids," she said. "We have to protect the innocent."
Scavelli said the township committee is in support of the petition.
"We need more than what's currently on the books from the State of New Jersey, because it's simply not acceptable to have a guy with this kind of record living 100 feet from the school," Scavelli said.
Three state legislators have already proposed a measure that would allow towns to enact the laws and enable municipalities to enforce buffer zones around schools and playgrounds.
The proposal, sponsored by Assemblywoman Marcia Karrow, R-Warren/Hunterdon counties, has been referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee, but has yet to be heard.
Buncher questioned whether the bill, if it were to pass into law, would be upheld in court.
"The other arguments would remain and be forceful and persuasive to a court that these local ordinances are unconstitutional," he said.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
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A patchwork of rules; Statewide standards urged
WEYMOUTH - This suburban South Shore community on the edge of Boston Harbor is home to only a handful of the most dangerous kind of sex offender - roughly one for every 5,400 residents.
But this spring, Weymouth joined a growing number of communities across the Commonwealth by banning Level 3 sex offenders - those deemed most likely to re-offend - from living within 1,500 feet of any school, park, daycare center, or recreational facility. And in doing so, Weymouth officials not only made it almost impossible for Level 3 sex offenders to live in town, they managed to stoke fears in other communities that predators, unwelcome in Weymouth, may be headed their way.
It's a land rush of sorts. Without a state law restricting where sex offenders can or cannot live, municipalities are increasingly doing it on their own, drawing up maps that hem sex offenders into tiny pockets of town or forbid them from visiting public places like libraries. At least 10 communities have passed such laws, including four in the past few months alone. And the mere fact that some are taking action is making others consider it, sometimes pitting town against town as local officials scramble to make sure their community isn't perceived as a haven for sex offenders.
Following the approval of a new ordinance in New Bedford, Fall River wants one. With laws in Marlborough and, just recently, Southborough, Framingham is looking to put one on the books. And when Weymouth passed its law just last month, officials in neighboring communities couldn't help but take notice, given the comments of Town Councilor Patrick O'Connor.
At the vote, O'Connor suggested that sex offenders, unhappy with the new residency restrictions, could move to Braintree or other nearby communities. Braintree officials didn't appreciate the mention, but O'Connor makes no apologies. If folks in Braintree are upset, he said, they should discuss enacting sex offender restrictions of their own.
And so, in Braintree they are.
"You get into a situation where one community is positioning itself in a way that requires another community to take action," said Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan of Braintree. "And that can have ramifications that no one can measure at this time."
As a result, many local officials are now calling on Beacon Hill lawmakers to join more than 20 other states by passing a statewide measure that would restrict, in a uniform way, where sex offenders can live. It's a proposal that Representative Karyn Polito has been pushing for two years.
But Polito, a Shrewsbury Republican, said the bill has had trouble getting traction. Some lawmakers, she said, are worried that the proposal, if passed, would attract court challenges, like sex offender restrictions have in other states. And still others raise different concerns about whether or not these restrictions even work.
"It sort of comes down to a question of whether or not it's a smart thing to do or a feel-good, knee-jerk reaction," said Christopher Ott, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
"Of course, we all want kids to be safe. But I think you have to ask the question: Are sex offenders more likely or less likely to reoffend if they're turned into outcasts?"
The problem, Ott and other critics say, is that these laws often make it difficult for sex offenders to find housing or return to their hometowns upon being paroled. Without stability, and a support network nearby, sex offenders are more likely to struggle financially and emotionally, according to studies, and more likely to become transient and homeless as well.
"There's a lot of concern that by making communities uninhabitable for sex offenders law enforcement will lose track of them, that they'll end up a transient population and end up in much worse shape and more likely to re-offend," said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
"I don't know that there's any evidence of that. But there's not any evidence that these laws work, either," Finkelhor said.
Most predators don't target victims based on proximity, Finkelhor said, but on familiarity. A review of thousands of sexual assault cases in 1990s, conducted by the US Department of Justice, found that 93 percent of juvenile victims knew their attacker. Fifty-nine percent of the time, the study revealed, it was an acquaintance, and 34 percent of the time it was a family member. And a different study, published last year by Minnesota state corrections officials, found that proximity to a park or a school had no bearing on repeat offenses.
In this very practical way, Finkelhor said, the laws being passed in many Massachusetts municipalities do very little to make families safer. He criticized the state for allowing local officials to engage in a sort of "bidding contest," where towns seem to compete to keep sex offenders out.
"It's kind of a race to the bottom," Finkelhor said. "Everybody feels forced to get into the act."
But that's not how O'Connor, in Weymouth, and officials in other communities see it. O'Connor, a 23-year-old town councilor, said conversation about restricting sex offenders started last fall when a resident pointed out that a Level 3 sex offender was living next to a playground.
Just using common sense, O'Connor said, such a scenario seemed like a bad idea. And he and others pushed for restrictions, even after weighing criticism from folks like Finkelhor. O'Connor said he'd rather err on the side of children, than predators. The law was passed in May. It allows the 10 Level 3 sex offenders currently living in Weymouth to stay wherever they are now. But if they move, they will have to abide by the law, which by O'Connor's estimation takes more than 90 percent of the town off the map.
"I don't think anyone wants pedophiles living in the community," O'Connor said. "I know they have a right to live where they see fit. It's America. They can live where they want to live. But if they choose to live in Weymouth, our community, I think we need to put restrictions on where they can live."
Others agree. In Mendon, home to two Level 3 sex offenders, Deborah McCarter-Spaulding, a mother of two, was able to gather more than 100 signatures in a single day recently in order to put a similar proposal before voters June 23. Rockland and Southborough each passed residency restrictions this spring. And after a child was assaulted at the town library this year, New Bedford officials voted in a measure banning sex offenders from public places where children gather, like libraries, but allowing them to live where they choose.
"Prior to this ordinance, it was 100 percent legal to have absolutely the worst sex offender going to a playground and sitting on a park bench and watching kids play," said Lieutenant Jeffrey Silva of the New Bedford Police Department. "Literally, it was like swimming in a shark tank. You were taking your children into the community and throwing them into the waters of a shark tank. There was no safe zone."
But not every town this spring has voted in favor of restrictions. In recent weeks, residents in both Scituate and Hull rejected measures similar to Weymouth's, questioning whether they were necessary or even effective.
Hull's police chief, Richard Billings, worried that passing the law would turn neighborhood upon neighborhood. Residents living in zones where sex offenders were allowed might soon be proposing parkland on their streets in an effort to keep out predators, Billings said. And he wondered how police officers would enforce a no-loitering law for sex offenders at ball fields and other places where children gather.
"You need to police your own family," Billings said, recounting his arguments at the town meeting this spring. "I didn't enjoy saying this, but you need to look inside your own home and pay attention to who you're leaving your children with when you drop them off. It's a sad statement on society, but that's where we're at today."
In the end, the townspeople sided with him; the issue was tabled. But Billings, a father of two, understands the power of fear and he knows Hull's sex offender debate is far from over. When asked whether he thought the proposal would come up again, maybe next year, Billings had a practical reply.
"Yes," he said. "I do."
Keith O'Brien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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I am getting sick of all of this. Why don't we treat all criminals like sex offenders. Why are they not all evaluated before being released from prison, and if deemed a threat still, then committed like sex offenders? There are many other criminals who are a danger to society as well, like murderers, gang members, drug dealers, DUI offenders, you name it. Why are we only doing this for sex offenders? It's discrimination, period. If we must do this for sex offenders, then why aren't all criminals treated the same? I thought ALL MEN were equal? If so, then equal treatment is deserved. Yet we let killers out to roam the streets all the time. I agree, treatment DOES work, but the offender has to want help before it does.
Her nightmare started just after 5 p.m. Nov. 10, 1980.
She was taking a welding class at Pima Community College's downtown campus and had just pulled into the parking lot when Aaron Dean Davis ran up to her car.
"Lady, I just killed a man, get me out of here," he yelled at her as he pulled out a knife.
Davis forced her back into the car. They drove for miles. When they got close to the college's West Side campus, he forced her to stop in a nearby wash.
There, Davis beat and raped her. When it was over, he had her drop him off near Congress and Granada.
Davis was caught, convicted and sent to prison in August 1982.
With his sentence now up, Davis wants his freedom. The Pima County Attorney's Office is trying to make sure that doesn't happen.
For the past 10 years, Arizona prosecutors have had the power to have convicted sex offenders committed to the state hospital past the end of their prison terms if they believe the person remains a threat.
- And all the while, other dangerous felons, like murderers and gang members are let loose to kill or commit another crime. I DEMAND EQUAL TREATMENT FOR EVERYONE, PERIOD!!!
Once that happens, the only way out is to convince a judge he is no longer a danger.
- And how in the hell does someone do this? This is totally backwards on what justice is about. You are suppose to be innocent until proven guilty, same thing here, the judge should have to prove you are still a dangerous person, and if they cannot, then they should let the person go free, period. Instead, we have a backwards government that is so corrupt, it cannot see the truth any more.
There are indicators that a program that puts former inmates into the Arizona Community Protection and Treatment Center is having the desired effect on these most threatening of sex offenders.
- What a load of BS! What study did the above come from? Almost 95% of all sex offenders that are committed, NEVER GET OUT! So how is that a "desired effect?" What about rehabilitation? We seem to have forgotten our morals here.
Of the 104 men who have been through the program and released, two have been re-arrested. That compares to a 15 percent rate of repeat violations for sex offenders overall, according to Sergio Martinez, a forensic psychologist who evaluates convicts to see if they should be placed in the program.
- So you are saying 104 men were civilly committed, and then later released? What study or facts show this? I've not heard of but maybe a couple sex offenders who have been released from civil commitment. Also, these so called "repeat violations," were they just some other crime or another sex crime? If you only consider another sex crime, then the recidivism rate is at about 3% or less.
But the security of keeping those sexually violent predators off street has a price. The Arizona Department of Corrections spends $61.74 a day for each prisoner. The cost to treat a sexually violent person in the state's Arizona Community Protection and Treatment Center is $325.71.
Since the first convict was committed under a new law in 1998, 110 such predators, all men, have been sent to the state hospital for treatment after the end of their sentences. Another 65 nearing their release dates are being evaluated for commitment.
The 104 who have been released spent an average of three to four extra years in state custody — the longest six years.
The process of having sex offenders committed starts at the state prison. When they are within 180 days of being released, prison officials send those they believe may require civil commitment to either Martinez or Dr. Barry Morenz, a forensic psychiatrist, for evaluation.
- So who is this Morenz character? What is his credentials? Just because he is a "doctor" doesn't mean he is qualified.
If they believe the defendant has a mental disorder that makes it "highly probable" he'll commit another sexually violent act, they notify the county attorney.
- The thought police!!! Committing someone for something they "MAY" do in the future. Sounds a lot like Minority Report to me, or 1984 maybe...
A hearing before a judge is held, at which the defendant's attorney can submit evidence from other doctors who believe his client isn't sexually violent. If the judge believes there is "probable cause" the defendant is a threat, the individual is transferred to the Arizona State Hospital for an evaluation by another doctor.
- So who is this "other" doctor? Are they not reviewed by professionals who treat sex offenders? And what about civil rights people? Are they allowed to be in on the "evaluation?"
If that doctor agrees with the first, a jury trial is held. If a jury determines a defendant is sexually violent, he becomes a resident at the treatment center.
Martinez said being found sexually violent requires not just a conviction. In addition, the individual must be diagnosed with certain types of mental disorders and lack the ability to control his behavior, and the judge and a doctor must agree it is "highly probable" he will commit another sex crime.
- So if someone has been in prison for 10-15 years, a way from the general public, and maybe getting treatment inside prison, how can you predict the future?
Of the more than 600 prisoners he has evaluated in eight years, only about 5 percent qualify, Martinez said.
In Davis' case, Pima County Superior Court Judge Nanette Warner ruled Davis is a sexually violent person. But his attorney, Assistant Pima County Public Defender Donald Klein, is contesting her decision. A hearing is scheduled for June 23.
Once someone is committed, individual and group counseling sessions designed to help the "resident" understand what arouses him, how to manage his deviant thoughts and how to avoid those situations are mandatory, said Dan Montaldi, a psychologist and chief evaluator at the treatment center.
Gradually, "residents" earn more access to the community, although they may be kept under surveillance or required to wear GPS monitors — sometimes living in group homes, taking jobs or attending school.
- Getting a job once on the outside, is almost impossible! So tracking them like an animal, and forcing them to live under a bridge, is only putting EVERYONE in danger.
While sexually violent people cannot be cured, the intensity of their deviant thoughts and their urge to act upon them can be lessened, Montaldi said, making them less likely to re-offend than those who receive no treatment at all.
"Treatment is one of the factors that can reduce the recidivism rate, but it depends on the quality of the program," Martinez said.
Everyone committed to the treatment center has the right to be evaluated annually under Arizona law, Montaldi said.
During those evaluations, prosecutors and doctors have to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that a resident's mental disorder hasn't changed. If they can't prove it, a judge must release that person.
- Beyond a reasonable dount? What a joke! All it takes is for one person to say someone is dangerous. This reporter clearly has no clue to what they are reporting on, IMO.
Five times in the program's 10 years, doctors and prosecutors felt a resident was still dangerous and were overruled by judges, Montaldi said. Two of the five have been re-arrested, although neither for a violent sexual crime, Montaldi said. None of the five were Pima County cases.
- So the recidivism rate is 0% then... Sounds like it worked to me!
On the flip side, Montaldi said there are residents who never ask to be discharged.
- That is because they have lost everything, and making it on the outside, being labeled a sex offender, is almost impossible, so do you blame them? At least there, they get treatment, food, baths, etc...
"There are a few who are well-behaved here, but they themselves feel they are a danger to the public and want to protect society," Montaldi said.
Deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer, who once headed the office's sex-crimes unit, believes the program keeps high-risk offenders off our streets.
Mayer recalls one convicted sex offender who bragged in prison about committing thousands of kidnappings and rapes, including the pitchfork death of a 14-year-old girl. When it came time for him to be released, and he was going through the evaluation process to be committed, his DNA matched a San Francisco cold case involving a 14-year-old rape and murder victim, Mayer said. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to prison in that case.
- Going around in prison bragging about this, is clearly a case of insanity to me. This man is either insane, or just wanted to die, so he told everyone, hoping they'd kill him and get it over with, IMO.
Defense attorney Brick Storts said that when the state started committing sexually violent people, the program was "draconian," but it has improved a great deal since then. No longer is it run like a prison, Storts said.
- I'll believe it when I see it, or facts to prove it.
In addition, prosecutors have become much more discriminating about whom they try to commit, Storts said.
Part of the change stems from Arizona and U.S. Supreme Court rulings limiting the number of people eligible for the program, such as a state ruling it must be "highly probable" the person will re-offend, not just "possible" or "probable."
In addition, more and more sex offenders are being sent to prison, but also being placed on lifetime probation, Mayer said.
If a sex offender made a plea deal agreeing to lifetime probation following prison, it would be ethically improper to seek a civil commitment, Mayer said. The offender is going to be monitored just as closely and required to seek treatment as a term of probation anyway.
Also, some prisoners are admitting they are sexually violent as part of a plea deal that guarantees them a shot at a less-restrictive program, such as being considered for placement in a group home, Montaldi said.
One of Assistant Pima County Public Defender John O'Brien's clients did exactly that, was eventually discharged from the program and has had no subsequent run-ins with the law.
"From his point of view, it works," O'Brien said. "He gradually earned greater freedoms, got to go on day trips and even got a job."
John Cooper, chief executive officer for the Arizona State Hospital, said Arizona is far more advanced than many other states in terms of treatment, assessment and integration of sex offenders.
Many other states are simply building more prisons, Cooper said.
- We are a prison nation, with a lock em' up and throw a way the key mentality, so we can push OUR problems a way instead of fixing the problem. That is typical of society!!!
● Contact reporter Kim Smith at 587-4241 or email@example.com.
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Yeah, and so could putting all human beings on a registry. The Nazi's did this as well, and we know where that went, don't we? Why discriminate? Put everyone on a registry so we know who we live around, and so we can track everyone 24/7!
Brian Stone will be more than 70 years old when he gets out of prison — we hope. At least motorists won’t have to worry, for a few decades, about a vehicle driven by him slamming into theirs.
But there are many, many more people like Stone out there, and they will continue to take lives unless and until more is done to keep them off our streets and highways.
Last July, Stone was driving his pickup truck on Interstate 68 near Morgantown when he lost control, triggering an accident that cost the lives of five people. He was intoxicated at the time.
He was convicted of multiple charges involving the accident. Last week he was sentenced to 41 years in prison.
As we have reported, Stone already had multiple convictions for driving under the influence when he got intoxicated again and went out on I-68 last summer. His driver’s license had been suspended in West Virginia, so Stone went across the border into Pennsylvania — where officials handed him a new license to drive. After the fatal accident, they said Stone had lied on his Pennsylvania driver’s license application.
But as we have pointed out, Pennsylvania authorities could have caught Stone in his lies had they merely run a computer check on him. Instead, they gave him a license to kill.
Stone may be behind bars, but travelers still will have to worry about the numerous other men and women who, with DUI convictions and sometimes license suspensions on their records, continue to drink and drive.
Penalties in most states for those who have multiple DUI convictions are stiff, often calling for short prison terms and license suspensions or revocations. But how well are DUI offenders monitored to ensure that they don’t “game” the system, as Stone did? Obviously, not well enough.
In contrast, sex offenders are watched closely by most states. In West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania, for example, they must register with the authorities. Information about them, including photographs of them, is available to the public on special Web sites. When an offender moves to another state, officials there are notified.
Had Stone been a sex offender, it is likely that Pennsylvania authorities would have known much more about him than he would have liked. But he wasn’t. He was only a repeat DUI offender who was permitted to slip through the cracks in that state’s procedures.
- This is just idiotic and stupid.... Do you really think if he was on a DUI registry he would not have gone out, got behind a wheel drunk, and killed someone? How would being on a registry prevent him from doing so? Like I've said before, this is just a precursor. Pretty soon we'll all be branded and tracked 24/7, like predicted in the Bible! Mark my words for it... Wake up before they come for you!!!
Perhaps repeat DUI offenders should be handled in a manner similar to that used against sex offenders — in some respects. Officials in some states, including Ohio, are considering such programs. Clearly, more needs to be done among the states to ensure that people like Stone cannot simply evade their pasts by moving and obtaining driver’s licenses in new locations.
- Why not ALL CRIMINALS? Like I've mentioned before. Why discriminate against sex offenders and DUI offenders? Why not murderers, gang members, drug dealers, abusive men/women, deadbeat dads/mothers, anybody?
Innocent people died because Stone got away with it. More needs to be done to keep others from emulating his strategy.