Sunday, July 18, 2010

OH - Sexual offenders get court break

Original Article

07/17/2010

By Jon Craig

COLUMBUS - Thousands of registered sex offenders will no longer have to report where they live and work to county sheriffs.

That's the result of a 5-1 Ohio Supreme Court decision (Video, PDF) where the justices ruled that any sex offender convicted before 2008 should not face the newer Adam Walsh law reporting requirements, which typically require longer time frames to register work and home addresses, driver's licenses and other personal information with county sheriffs.

As a result, most of Ohio's 26,027 registered sex offenders are likely to see their lifetime registration requirement revert to just one or two decades of updating addresses with local sheriffs.

The exception is if they were labeled sexual predators before Jan. 1, 2008, under the old Megan's law. Those predators, and most of the newly convicted sex offenders, must continue registering every 90 days for life.

Hundreds of the least dangerous one-time sex offenders also could be released from Ohio prisons this year if they are now incarcerated just for failing to register after the new law was passed three years ago. Their release must be ordered by the judges who sentenced them.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that the state Legislature violated the separation-of-powers doctrine by requiring sex offenders convicted before 2008 to follow tougher registration requirements.

"From day one this law has been a nightmare for almost everyone involved," said Jeffrey M. Gamso, a Toledo lawyer and former legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, which challenged the new law.

Gamso said the ACLU warned the Supreme Court in June 2007 that it could stop the new law then and avoid hundreds of lawsuits, but the state's top court refused to hear the case. Since then, more than 1,000 lawsuits have been filed and hundreds have made it to higher appeals courts.

"The nightmare isn't over," Gamso said Friday. "I can't begin to tell you how the logistics will play out on how this is going to get fixed. Forget the constitutional issues. It is an administrative nightmare."

In Gamso's opinion, the more registered sex offenders that sheriffs try to keeps tabs on, the higher the odds that the most dangerous predators - the ones who might not bother to register anyway - can go undetected. "You wind up building a bigger haystack instead of looking for the needle," he said.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction keeps records about where inmates lived previously.

Once an inmate leaves the prison system, the department does not track where they move, said JoEllen Smith, assistant communications chief with DRC.

Smith said state prisons are not releasing inmates because of the Supreme Court decision. Judges from courts that originally sentenced the sex offender must decide whether to release anyone early, or relax address reporting requirement.

"If inmates are released, this would be something done by the courts and DRC is not tracking this," Smith said.


TX - Deaf inmate says fingerprint proves his innocence

Original Article

07/14/2010

By JEFF CARLTON

DALLAS -- Through a sign-language interpreter at the Dallas County Jail, [name withheld] cops to all sorts of crimes save the one that put him behind bars for 10 years: sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl.

He insists he is innocent, and there's support for his claim.

A fingerprint at the crime scene matches another man convicted in the sexual assault of a child. [name withheld]'s confession came during 18 hours of questioning and included admissions to fictitious crimes made up by investigators to test his credibility. Also, [name withheld] is deaf and doesn't speak clearly, but police didn't use an interpreter for about half of their interviews.

"I want people to know that I'm not a bad person," said [name withheld], 38, straining to be understood as he signed and spoke in a recent interview. "I want to be a law-abiding citizen."

He soon may get the chance. The Dallas County District Attorney's office has a unit that focuses on possible exoneration cases, and it is investigating whether [name withheld] is innocent. His new attorney, Michelle Moore, is a public defender known for helping to free the wrongly convicted. She acknowledged she is close to finishing key documents seeking his release.

These actions could lead to a hearing where a judge would decide whether to set aside [name withheld]'s conviction.

"If they find me not guilty and I'm exonerated," said [name withheld], "I'm getting out of Texas."

The injustices in [name withheld]'s life began early. Spinal meningitis when he was 1 1/2 left him permanently deaf, and when he was 5, his mother abandoned him at a bus station.

In 1991, [name withheld] was a teenager and petty criminal in the Dallas suburb of Richardson when police arrested him for stealing quarters from a soda machine. But during questioning, their focus shifted to a more serious matter: the unsolved sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl.

A man had entered her room through a bedroom window and forced her to leave with her blanket and pillow. He later assaulted her, according to a police report.

The case was one of about a dozen similar sexual assaults terrorizing the Dallas area in the early 1990s. The newspapers labeled the unknown criminal the "North Dallas Rapist."

After nearly 18 hours of questioning over about 14 days, [name withheld] confessed to assaulting the little girl, court documents show. [name withheld] told The Associated Press that he felt intimidated. While he finally admitted committing the assault, he also repeatedly denied it.

"It was a lot of stress, because (the detective) was asking me so many questions over and over again," [name withheld] said. "I got fed up. I gave up. It's easy to give up."

His adoptive father, [name withheld], says his son was "being hounded by the Richardson Police Department" and made a scapegoat because of pressure over the unsolved sexual assaults.

"There was such a hue and cry because of these molestations," [name withheld] said.

Richardson police officials did not respond to several AP interview requests.

[name withheld]'s propensity for admitting to made-up crimes and his lack of knowledge about the actual crimes convinced Dallas Detective Steven Nelson that the teenager was not behind the Dallas sexual assaults. Nelson, in an affidavit, said he informed Richardson police [name withheld] was not a suspect.

But Richardson police were convinced they had their man. They charged [name withheld] with sexual assault of a child even though neither a hair found on her blanket nor a fingerprint on the girl's window were a match. There was no physical evidence linking [name withheld] to the crime.

When a judge ruled the confession was admissible at trial, [name withheld] and his attorney figured a guilty verdict, punishable by up to 99 years, was all but certain. So they cut a deal - pleading guilty to assaulting the girl in exchange for a five-year prison sentence. After serving that sentence, he served two more totaling an extra five years for twice failing to register as a sex offender.

While [name withheld] was in prison, Richardson police made a critical discovery. There was a fingerprint on the girl's window, the perpetrator's point of entry, that matched [name withheld], according to court documents and police records.

[name withheld] was never charged in the string of sexual assaults on children in the early 90s. But Dallas police said he was the man responsible for six sexual assaults and five attempted assaults in the North Dallas area involving girls ages 7 to 19, according to reports in The Dallas Morning News at the time.

A man would break into homes through windows, force the victims at knifepoint to leave with him and assault them, Dallas police said.

In April 1994, [name withheld] pleaded guilty to the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl and received 10 years probation. He eventually was sentenced to 10 years in prison for violating his probation. He is now free and works for a yard service in Stephenville, according to the Texas sex offender registry.

He did not return a message left by The AP. A man who answered the phone at his home said [name withheld] would not speak to the media and declined to identify his attorney.

Richardson police say [name withheld]'s print is a coincidence, that he "somehow touched the frame when he was wandering around in the neighborhood four days prior to this offense," according to police records.

In a 1994 appeal, [name withheld]'s attorney cited the fingerprint on the window. But a judge denied the appeal, ruling that [name withheld]'s confession outweighed the fingerprint evidence.

If he is freed, [name withheld] would be the second exoneration case in two years involving Richardson police. The first was [name withheld], who was freed in 2008 after serving 23 years of a life sentence for a rape he did not commit.

"This should never have happened," said [name withheld], his voice breaking. "I know he didn't do it. That's not [name withheld]."