Thursday, April 24, 2008
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By Melissa Shriver
The state of Missouri has some of the strictest sex offender laws in the country. It puts tight restrictions on where sex offenders can*not* live, and how often they have to register with police.
Supporters say those restrictions are necessary to keep an eye on sex offenders to keep you and your family safe. But those same laws also label all sex offenders as the same, no matter the circumstances or severity of their crimes. And that label follows the offender for the rest of his or her life.
So tonight we have a story every parent and teenager should see. We sat down with a mother of a registered sex offender who says a bad decision as a teenager left her son with life-long consequences.
This story begins here at Monroe City High School with a promising teenager. He was on the basketball and football teams. Everyone we talked with says he was a good kid and popular in school. After graduation he did what many kids do, he moved away to go to college. When he was 19 and at a Kansas college, he and a roommate stopped at a gas station before a night out. That's when this seemingly promising life came to a halt.
Mother Janice Holliday said, "They went to a gas station. They were going out. They ended up meeting these two girls and talked to them and got friendly. That's when it all happened. They went to the house to party, started drinking, dancing and one thing led to another. They ended up having sex. They left about 2 in the morning. Then the girls decided to leave, gave them their phone numbers and everything. "
Janice Holliday's son says it wasn't until police knocked on his door that he discovered the girl wasn't 17 as he said she claimed. She actually was two months from her 16th birthday. 16 is the age of consent in Kansas.
During the trial, the jury convicted Holliday's son of indecent liberties with a child because he admitted to consensual sex with a minor. In front of a crowd of supporters from Monroe City, Holliday's son was sentenced to almost 5 years in prison.
What was your initial reaction when you found out your son was being convicted?
Holliday said, "I was devastated because I didn't think anything like this could ever happen to my son."
Now her son has served his time and is out on parole. In Kansas where he was convicted he doesn't have to register as a sex offender. But when he tried to move back to Monroe City, he found things much different because *here* he is a sex offender.
What has it been like for your son to get out of prison?
Holliday said, "Well he's been very frustrated. Aggravation because he can't find housing, he can't find a job. He's in a class with people that actually rape babies. He tells me everyday, Mom, when am I going to find a house or a job? I tell him you pray to the Lord. You can't give up."
Because of his legal status, he can't spend time with his own child without supervision and can't attend her school events without approval from the school superintendent. He also faces a lifetime of registration as a sex offender.
Holliday said, "I just don't want it to happen to someone else's child. My son is a good kid. I just don't want to see another mother go through the devastation I had to go through because it's a nightmare."
Holliday said, "You just got to be careful. If you're a young guy and you're dating these young girls you need to be careful because they may tell you they're one age and they're not."
A warning she says every parent and teenager should listen to.
Opponents of sex offender laws agree with Janice Holliday -- that it's unfair to put all sex offenders into one category, no matter their crime.
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COLUMBIA (AP) - A bill limiting where sex offenders can live in South Carolina has stalled over worries it would push sexual predators to the state's rural areas.
Senator Vincent Sheheen (Email) told a Senate panel on Thursday he would not let the rural counties he represents become a magnet for sex offenders.
The panel postponed voting. Sheheen says he will work with the sponsor to find a way to protect rural areas. The legislation bans convicted child molesters from moving within 1,000 feet of places where children gather, including schools, day care centers, and parks.
Officials say the restrictions would make it hard for sex offenders to find a place to live in some cities. The House approved the bill last month.
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Contact: Sandra Hoekstra, Christianity Today International, 630-260-6200 x4224, Shoekstra@ChristianityToday.com
CAROL STREAM -- A Christian media ministry with a passion to keep children safe from sexual abuse released a new resource that will help churches and ministries properly screen, train, and oversee the people who work with children.
Since the 1980s, when a surge of child sexual abuse cases in churches surfaced, allegations of abuse by clergy have decreased, yet allegations of abuse by church lay leaders and volunteers have risen sharply.
Last year, more than 300 incidents were reported within church or ministry organizations, and in half of these cases the perpetrator was a volunteer or paid staff member. The reason? Many child sex offenders seek out welcoming environments where there is easy access to minors.
According to church legal expert Richard Hammar, "Many churches and faith-based youth organizations still fail to implement proper screening processes for their workers and adequate training of staff and volunteers before placing them in service with minors."
Christianity Today International developed an all-new, DVD-based training kit: Reducing the Risk: Keeping Your Ministry Safe from Child Sexual Abuse. This is the third edition of the Reducing the Risk series, which started 15 years ago. Its release coincides with National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The latest version of Reducing the Risk features DVD training for churches, complete with real-life stories from a victim and a convicted sex offender; a roundtable discussion with leading national experts; "what would you do" scenarios; and teaching from Richard Hammar. The kit also offers a leader's guide, trainee workbooks, screening forms, and records files. Together, these tools enable churches to immediately implement a program that effectively trains ministry leaders and build the systems and procedures needed to make churches safe havens for children.
Reducing the Risk: Keeping Your Ministry Safe from Child Sexual Abuse is published by Your Church (Christianity Today International). Christianity Today International is a media ministry founded by Billy Graham in 1956. (www.ChristianityToday.com).
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What the hell is "registration of criminal offenders?"
DOVER — The fiancée of a registered sex offender who eluded police for a few weeks earlier this month now faces some criminal charges of her own.
Police arrested Janice Sessler, 47, on Wednesday afternoon and charged her with one count of registration of criminal offenders, which alleges Sessler harbored her fiancée Richard Jennings on April 3 when they tried to arrest him at her residence on a felony charge of duty to report.
"In this case, our allegation is that on the night we finally arrested him, officers knocking on the door saw her inside and she wouldn't answer the door," said Dover Police Lt. David Terlemezian. "We later learned he was inside, and she knew we were there to speak with him and arrest him."
- So is there a law that says you must answer the door when someone knocks on it? Why did you not get a search warrant, and then if they did not answer, knock down the door and go in?
Jennings had escaped the apartment through a fire escape that night and was later arrested walking through the woods near the Rutland Manor apartment complex. Police said he was trying to walk to his vehicle parked at the complex.
He later admitted to police he was inside the apartment when they were knocking on the door but said he didn't want to get Sessler in trouble, Terlemezian said.
Jennings, 41, is at the center of American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit filed on his behalf against the City of Dover. The lawsuit alleges the city's sexual offender ordinance banning registered sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of a school or day-care center is unconstitutional.
Sessler's charge is a Class B felony punishable by up to seven years in prison. She was released on $750 personal recognizance bail and is scheduled for arraignment in Dover District Court on May 9.
Terlemezian stressed the importance of the public reporting sex offenders to police if they know that offender isn't complying with registration requirements, especially if you're living with or near one.
When Jennings was arrested April 3, he was listed on the state's sex offender website as living at 12 Bunker Ave. in Epping. However, multiple tips from Locust Street residents led police to believe Jennings was still living in the city.
Jennings remains at the Strafford County Jail on $25,000 cash bail.
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NICEVILLE (AP) - Mark Lunsford, the father of Jessica Lunsford, visited the Emerald Coast for Child Abuse Prevention Month.
In a speech yesterday, Lunsford told the group if they had gone after Jessica's killer, he would have stopped just one sex offender. Now his mission is to affect them all.
- Hey Mark, if they would've gave him the treatment he begged and begged and begged for, he would've got the help he needed and your daughter would still be here. Trying to exact your anger on ALL SEX OFFENDERS is not right. They are not all evil killers like you seem to believe. Oh yeah, and what about that child porn you had on your machine when Jessica went missing? Huh?
The Florida Legislature passed the Jessica Lunsford Act in April 2005 which requires stricter and longer prison sentences, lifetime probation and electric monitoring of sex offenders convicted of crimes against children.
Jessica was kidnapped from her home in Homosassa in 2005, raped and murdered by John Couey, a registered sex offender who lived nearby.
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Periodic verbal check-ins are not enough to determine if convicted sex offenders are violating parole, according to a state representative.
Rep. Jerry "Truck" Gisclair, D-Larose, authored a bill in review by the House Criminal Justice Committee that would allow the use of polygraphs and Voice Stress Analysis devices by the Department of Public Safety and Corrections as a condition of parole or probation of sex offenders.
VSA devices are modern alternatives to polygraphs that are meant to detect stress associated with questioning and attempts to deceive. But they have not been proven to distinguish between general stress and stress associated with deception.
Gisclair said he was told by a former sheriff that sex offenders only meet with their parole officers twice a month for interrogation sessions - and one of the sessions can be conducted over the phone.
But Barry Matheny, assistant director of the Division of Probation and Parole, said the supervision assigned to sex offenders depends upon their assessed risk and includes anything from residence walk-throughs to employment check-ins.
"We do lots of on-site checks," Matheny said.
He said his department assesses the risk levels of offenders using a "validated instrument" common to law enforcement called Static-99 and assigns supervision according to these levels. Every offender released from prison on parole is required to attend treatment and register as a sex offender.
In monitoring sex offenders' required registration, sex offenders are divided into three "tiers" depending on the gravity of their offense, Lt. Stan Thomas of the Baton Rouge Police Department said in an e-mail.
He said "tier one" consists of offenders who pose the "least threat to the public." They must register as sex offenders once a year, carry state identification such as a driver's license with "sex offender" printed in bold orange letters and provide two proofs of residence.
Thomas said they also provide a DNA swab and fingerprints that are kept on file and on a state Web site with a current picture. He said they must post notices in a local newspaper stating they are sex offenders.
"Tier two" offenders must produce all of the same information as "tier one" offenders but must register as sex offenders twice a year because their offenses are more severe, Thomas said. "Tier three" offenders must do all the above but must register three times a year, Thomas said.
In addition to requiring convicted sex offenders to register, Gisclair's amendment to Article 895 of the Code of Criminal Procedure would read as follows: "Additionally, the court may include, as a condition of probation, the use of a polygraph examination to determine if the offender is complying with the conditions of probation. If ordered by the court as a condition of probation, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, division of probation and parole, is hereby authorized to administer polygraph examinations pursuant to the court order."
Gisclair said offenders can easily pass check-up investigations unscathed by talking "like an angel" with their parole officers. He said many sheriffs' departments nationwide have implemented VSA systems, and the results are "very reliable."
Gisclair said he decided to propose the change to parole regulations when he realized an offender had repeated a sex crime in his hometown.
"We had a local individual that was let out of jail sometime last year," said the Larose native. "A couple weeks ago, I open up the newspaper, and he's been arrested for the same thing he did the first time."
Gisclair said authorities might never know about a sexual offense unless the victim reports it. And he said the adoption of lie detectors would provide a more ample "safety net" in the exposure and apprehension of offenders.
Thirteen forcible and attempted forcible rapes have been reported to BRPD as of February, according to its Web site. And an average of 14 rapes was recorded by February each year from 1999 to 2007.
Although statistics were unavailable for March and April of this year, the average number of rapes recorded by April each year from 1999 to 2007 was about 29. There were 81 total reported rapes in 2007, and 1999 to 2007 had an average of about 92 total rapes a year.
Sonja Pania, senior crime specialist at BRPD, said molestation is not included in this number, and the statistics only include male to female attacks. She said the department keeps track of crime in which the FBI is interested.
Lt. Rhys Flynn of the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office said a polygraph is used for all lie detection operations in the department.
"We do not use computerized voice stress analysis," said Flynn, who administers polygraph tests. "It's not real popular in my opinion."
A 2007 report paid for by the National Institute of Justice tested two popular versions of VSA devices and found both exhibited poor validity and sensitivity.
The study tested the Layered Voice Analysis device and the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer among 319 arrestees at Oklahoma County Detention Center in Oklahoma City, Okla., during the booking process with interrogation about drug use. Urinalysis followed to test the results of the VSA devices against actual results.
"Both VSA programs show poor validity - neither program efficiently determined who was being deceptive about recent drug use," according to the report. "The programs were not able to detect deception at a rate any better than chance."
Only 15 percent of subjects considered deceptive were actually deceptive, according to urinalysis for each of the five drugs investigated - a low sensitivity rate.
"Polygraphs are not foolproof," said BRPD Sgt. Don Kelly in an e-mail. "Which is one reason they're not admissible in court."
- If they are not accurate and not admissable in court, how can they be used against someone as being guilty? This site, has more info on polygraphs.
Gisclair said the polygraph or VSA would not alone provide grounds for the retrieval of sex offenders on parole, but it would "trigger" looking into the activities related to those for which he or she was already arrested.
"A polygraph machine, in the hands of a qualified, experienced operator, can be a valuable tool that is often used in criminal investigations," Kelly said.
Sue Bernie, assistant district attorney and section chief of the Sex Crimes Division, said enacting legislation for the use of polygraphs on sex offenders would most likely have "limited effectiveness" because the success of a polygraph depends on the type of criminal tested.
"A lot of sex offenders are sociopaths and don't think they've done anything wrong," Bernie said.
She said the reliability of polygraph results is challenged by this fact, and the test should not be the only means of judging an offender's behavior while on parole.
Laura Godfrey, English sophomore, said she does not trust the results of polygraph tests and suggests increasing the frequency of sex offenders' meetings with their parole officers.
"I actually don't think polygraph tests work," Godfrey said. "If you're clever enough to get past the cops ... you're clever enough to beat a lie detector test."
Contact Sarah Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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This is what you get when you make and pass so many bills nobody knows what is on the books already.
The state attorney general’s effort to tweak sex offender laws ran into problems Wednesday in a House committee from a legislator who said the changes lowered the age of consent for sexual relations.
The House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice approved two measures that have an opposite outcome.
House Bill 867 changes the age when soliciting sex becomes a crime to 17 years old and under. The other bill, House Bill 770, leaves the age at 18.
HB867, sponsored by Rep. Damon Baldone (Email), D-Houma, makes the technical wording changes he said closes loopholes that could allow sex offenders to challenge the law constitutionally.
Assistant Attorney General Steve Martin argued the way the law reads, an offender could challenge the constitutionality of an arrest for soliciting sex from a 17-year-old on the Internet or by a cell-phone text messaging because minors that age can legally agree to have sex.
If found unconstitutional, then all the offenders arrested under the law could be freed, he said.
“I don’t agree with that. I want to keep it at 18 years,” said state Rep. Hunter Greene (Email), R-Baton Rouge.
He said no appellate court has yet addressed the issue Martin hoped to fix in HB867.
He said the effect of the state attorney general’s bill would to make the age of consent 17, instead of 18.
Greene’s HB770 also tweaked the law forbidding the sexual solicitation of minors. Greene’s measure addressed some of the technicalities of when and how the initial contact takes place. Greene left the age at 18.
The committee attempted to amend Greene’s measure to change the age from 18 years old to 17, essentially to coincide with HB867. The committee voted down the amendment with five voting for and seven voting against the change.
The panel then approved Greene’s legislation without objection.
Both bills – with different ages – go to the House floor for debate.