Saturday, June 14, 2008

FL - Deltona revisits strict sex-offender rules

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06/14/2008

Deltona leaders said Friday that they are proposing to scale back their super-strict sex-offender limits.

Officials said they have little choice but to make more room for new sex offenders because judges have questioned the constitutionality of an ordinance city commissioners approved in 2006.

That ordinance is so strict, it effectively bans new offenders from moving into Deltona -- a situation judges have said subjects sex offenders "to potential loss of liberty" and "loss of property . . . "

State law already limits offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools and other places where children congregate.

Deltona's law expands that boundary to 2,500 feet. And, unlike most cities, Deltona also forbids offenders from living within nearly a half-mile of school bus stops.

Because there are so many bus stops in this mostly bedroom community of about 90,000, almost the entire city is off-limits. The city is proposing to remove the bus-stop clause in a revised ordinance scheduled for discussion Monday.

If commissioners agree on changes, they will hold a second vote July 7.

"What I want to do is get sexual predators out of Deltona without us having to go through a lot of court loss," Vice Mayor Michael Carmolingo said Friday. "We want to show the court we are trying to make adjustments."

The city also is proposing to enforce its rules against only the most serious offenders. Those are the ones that worry Commissioner Paul Treusch.

"Hopefully, the new ordinance will help control the sexual predators -- and that's the bottom of the bag," he said.

The city also will discuss reducing the penalties. Violators wouldn't go to jail but could still face a fine of up to $500.

George Griffin, who heads the Volusia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the changes would be improvements. But he added the ordinance only limits where offenders sleep at night.

To better protect children, Griffin said commissioners should consider anti-loitering zones, which prevent offenders from hanging out near schools and other places.


FL - Man Found Dead in Phosphate Pit Was Murdered, Police Say

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06/14/2008

Authorities identified the body found Thursday as William Hough, 39, of Lakeland.

LAKELAND - Police have identified the body found in a reclaimed phosphate pit Thursday as lifelong Lakeland resident William Joseph Hough, 39, and are calling his death a homicide.

Police were dispatched to BridgeWater subdivision, between Interstate 4 and State Road 33, about 3 p.m. after a body was seen floating in the pit.

The Medical Examiner's Office will not release the cause of death because of the criminal investigation, according to Lakeland police spokesman Jack Gillen.

A missing person report, filed about 3 p.m. Wednesday by Hough's mother, Linda H. Hough, identifies the subdivision as the last place he was seen Tuesday. The report said foul play is suspected.

Hough's parents learned of his death Thursday night.

"It's kind of empty right now - my life," his father, William D. Hough, said.

Hough lived with his parents and had a younger brother and an 8-year-old son, relatives said. He made his living as a welder.

Hough became a registered sex offender after being convicted of committing lewd and lascivious acts in the presence of a child under 16 in 1989 and 1990. According to the Department of Corrections, Hough served about four years in prison between 1992 and 1999 for lewd and lascivious acts and grand theft.

"I was never ashamed of the boy," William D. Hough said Friday.

"He didn't get a decent job," Hough said. He said his son's status as a registered sex offender often interfered with his attempts to apply for jobs. "When you're down, it is really hard to get up."

His mother recalled how much Hough resembled his father and that he had an affinity for fishing, hunting and comedy.

"He was the spitting image of his daddy when he was born," Linda Hough said. Her son would have turned 40 on June 22.

"He was a good person," she said. "He believed in giving everyone a chance."

Her sentiments were echoed by a close family friend, Ashley Hall. She became acquainted with Hough when she began dating his cousin. She now cares for his grandmother, Carolyn Hunter.

Hall said Hough thought there was good in everybody.

According to Hall and Hunter, in 2005 Hough drove 500 miles to bring Hall's son his dog, a boxer, after he moved to Atlanta and realized pets were allowed in his building.

"He was a beautiful, kind soul," Hall said.


MT - Sex offender registry rule unconstitutional

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06/14/2008

A federal judge in Missoula this week ruled that a provision of the national Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act is unconstitutional and dismissed a felony indictment accusing one sex offender of failing to register in Montana.

In a 44-page opinion issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy ruled that Congress cannot federally criminalize a sex offender's failure to register in a state-run database. Congress therefore exceeded its authority under the Interstate Commerce Clause by making it a federal crime for a sex offender to travel to another state and fail to re-register in that jurisdiction, Molloy wrote.

Jessica T. Fehr, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Montana, said the government intends to appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The U.S. Attorney's Office will be recommending to the Office of the Solicitor General that we do appeal Judge Molloy's decision,” Fehr said Friday. The U.S. Attorney's Office must receive authorization from the solicitor general before appealing a decision.

According to Molloy's order, no other appellate court has ruled on the issue, and his decision could potentially clear the way for other similar indictments to be dismissed on the same grounds.

“If the factual scenario fits in other cases, we will try to get those cases dismissed,” said Tony Gallagher, executive director of the Federal Defenders of Montana. “It's a big decision and it's a highly tactical point. We went after the indictment full bore with three motions to dismiss. We raised everything we possibly could, and Judge Molloy ruled that Congress went beyond its authority under the Commerce Clause in this particular scenario.”

The scenario at hand involves Bernard L. Waybright, 58, who in May 2004 was convicted of a misdemeanor sex crime in a West Virginia state court. As part of his sentence, he was required to register under the federal Sexual Offender Registration and Notification Act, which keeps track of where sex offenders reside. He then traveled to Montana on several occasions, but did not re-register with local law enforcement authorities, as required by federal law.

In his order, Molloy dismissed the indictment without prejudice, ruling that the provision “would allow Congress to federalize nearly any local criminal offense simply by making it a crime for someone who committed the offense to travel in interstate commerce at some point in his life.”

Because Molloy dismissed the indictment “without prejudice,” federal prosecutors can re-allege the charges against Waybright if they find another legal hook to do so.

Federal defender John Rhodes of Missoula filed the motions to dismiss the indictment, asserting seven different legal grounds that he argued during a hearing earlier this month.

Molloy denied a majority of those arguments, but ruled in favor of Rhodes' assertion that Congress overreached its authority and violated the Interstate Commerce Clause.

“It is evident that the same or similar arguments have been raised in district courts around the country,” Molloy wrote in his opinion. “These courts have mostly rejected such challenges for varying reasons. In my view, those district courts have it right for the most part. I conclude that all of Waybright's arguments, except one, lack merit.”

The exception is Waybright's claim that enactment of a particular provision requiring all sex offenders to register, regardless of whether they travel in interstate commerce, is not a valid exercise of Congress' power under the U.S. Constitution. Molloy therefore declared the provision unconstitutional.


CA - Suspect in sex assault on girl kills himself

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06/14/2008

STOCKTON - The 71-year-old Stockton man wanted by police for sexually assaulting the daughter of the woman with whom he lived took his own life Friday morning as a California Highway Patrol officer checked on a stolen car nearby.

The San Joaquin County Coroner's Office confirmed early Friday afternoon that Billy Don Potts was the man who shot himself in the head as he sat in a van parked on a gravel turnout at the end of Empire Tract Road west of Stockton.

Potts had been wanted on a $1 million warrant alleging kidnapping to commit robbery, rape or other sex crime; aggravated sexual assault; and weapons possession. A spokesman for the Sheriff's Office confirmed late Friday that Potts is the father of 27-year-old Richard Potts, who is on trial for the murder last year of Jessica Arro, 18. Richard Potts managed to briefly escape court custody in late May, but was caught when an alert motorcyclist ran him down in the middle of what police said was a carjacking attempt.

"It's unfortunate that Mr. (Billy Don) Potts took his own life and he won't have the opportunity to stand trial and take responsibility for his actions," CHP Officer Adrian Quintero, a department spokesman, said not far from where detectives continued their investigation near the van with Potts' body still inside.

The girl, whom Potts dropped off Thursday afternoon near the east Stockton home she, her mother and Potts shared, is in the custody of Child Protective Services and was given medical treatment, said San Joaquin County sheriff's Deputy Les Garcia, a department spokesman.

Garcia said Potts was required to register as a sex offender and that his registration was current.

The state attorney general's Web site for Megan's Law indicates that Potts had previously committed lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14.

Quintero said that around 8:30 a.m. Friday, Highway Patrol Officer N. Brunelli was sent to the gravel turnout to investigate an abandoned car thought to be stolen.

The motorcycle officer arrived and began checking out the car when he noticed a dark van nearby with its engine running, Quintero said.

Brunelli went up to the van and talked with Potts, who was sitting in the driver's seat. Potts said he was fine and did not need help, but Brunelli was not completely convinced because Potts was "passive" and did not really answer Brunelli's questions, Quintero said.

"It didn't look right to (Brunelli)," Quintero said. "It didn't seem right."

Brunelli, who Quintero said has been a CHP officer for the past 10 to 15 years, did not immediately recognize Potts from fliers distributed by the county Sheriff's Office when an Amber Alert for the 12-year-old girl was activated.

The CHP officer returned to check on the stolen vehicle about 100 feet from the van. He heard rustling sounds coming from inside the van, and Potts moved to the front passenger seat, Quintero said.

Brunelli then heard a popping sound at about 9:35 a.m. and ran back to the van. It was then that Brunelli found Potts had shot himself once in the head with a revolver. Brunelli radioed that a man had been wounded and recovered the gun and Potts' identification.

The Sheriff's Office at about the same time had broadcast a bulletin describing the van Potts likely was driving.

Law enforcement officials said the situation could have been even more deadly had Potts decided to shoot it out with the CHP officer.

"You hear about suicide by cop," Quintero said. "It could have gone ugly."

"We're very fortunate that that individual didn't turn that gun on the officer," Garcia added.

Garcia said Potts and the girl were last seen about 7 p.m. Wednesday, when they left to go to a Wilson Way grocery store. The vehicle they had been riding in was found, but Potts had recently purchased a van, said Garcia, "which tells me this was a premeditated act."

Potts kidnapped the girl, drove her around the county and sexually assaulted her, Garcia said. He said he thought media coverage of the abduction and the efforts by law enforcement to find Potts and the girl led Potts to drop her off near the east Stockton home.