Friday, July 4, 2008

AUSTRALIA - Sex offender suing vigilante

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CONVICTED sex offender Dennis Ferguson is suing a man who led an effort to chase him out of Ipswich a few years ago.

West Ipswich resident Noel Watterson yesterday was served papers notifying him that Ferguson was suing him for criminal compensation.

"He's trying to get money out of me," Mr Watterson told ABC Radio this morning.

"He's not going to get money out of me because I've got no money.

"He reckons I threatened to kill him. The word kill, I don't know if I said that."

Mr Watterson said he had previously been found guilty of threatening Ferguson.

"I got six months of a suspended jail sentence to behave myself for three years for threatening him with physical violence," he said.

Mr Watterson said he did not want Ferguson near him or anyone of his family because of his conviction for pedophilia.

"My daughter comes here all the time, she has seven children. It's hard to have someone like Dennis Ferguson live in your street. What do you think we're going to do?," he asked.

Meanwhile, Ferguson has been hounded out of his latest residence - a rural property near Miles, about 120km north-west of Dalby - by residents angry at his presence in the small community. He'd been taken there after being released from custody on Tuesday night.

But this morning he was moved to a location outside the Darling Downs region at his request, a Queensland Police Media spokesman.

Mr Watterson is scheduled to appear at Ipswich District Court on July 24.

GA - Legislative devilment

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IF EVER a slam-dunk request for an injunction was filed in a federal court it’s the one that has landed in U.S. District Court in Rome challenging the state’s new ban on exercising one’s religion.

The state’s overzealous legislators, who continue to use sledgehammers to try to kill fleas, apparently managed to slip in yet another new restriction on convicted sex offenders in their continual rewriting of a law that has already been slapped down repeatedly by the courts and contains elements (such as making it illegal to live with 1,000 feet of the state’s 150,000 school bus stops) that are obviously unenforceable — and on which many sheriffs and schools boards have refused to act as the “hit man.”

The latest addition: Not only can those who have served their time and paid their debt to society, yet will remain on the state’s official “outlaw” list for the rest of their lives, not be allowed to “work” for a church, as previously in the measure, now they also can’t “volunteer” for one.

Hence, one supposes, helping in a food kitchen, going on a mission trip, taking part in a Habitat for Humanity effort — even singing in a church choir — could result in being sent back to prison for from 10 to 30 years.

EVEN GRANTING that the legislative intent of protecting children against predatory repeat molesters is well meant, this won’t stand, can’t stand and reinforces the suspicion that the state’s lawmakers may have heard of the U.S. Constitution but apparently have never read it.

And, as previously pointed out repeatedly, if the state sees such great, continuing, incurable danger from child molesters why is it releasing them from prison in the first place instead of placing them (and paying for) rehabilitative services in a restricted setting?

The Georgia registry pegs some 40 percent of the released offenders as being “predatory” (far from all regarding children). And, of child molesters, national statistics show the majority of the perpetrators are family members or close friends. The legislators seem to have missed a bet by not banning those on the registry from attending any family events — or having a family, for that matter.

In this instance, however, the First Amendment very, very clearly and in simple language says government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

“Exercise” means “practice” and not simply attending a worship service. Can one have a meaningful religious belief without the ability to follow its tenets?

THIS CHALLENGE by the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights points out that the restriction denies Georgia’s sex offenders the “rehabilitative influence” of religious activity. “Certain people on the sex-offender registry should not work with children in a church setting or elsewhere,” agrees Sarah Geraghty, a center lawyer. “But criminalizing the practice of religion for all 15,700 people on the registry will do more harm than good.”

And the law makes no exceptions; even those on the registry for having consensual sex as teens are included. So are those on the registry who since have become ordained ministers (and there are such).

And here’s another and one assumes unintended horror of this latest devilment by the General Assembly: Pastors and other spiritual leaders could be charged as an accessory to a crime for encouraging those on the registry to participate in the life of the church.

If there’s any positive aspect to this it is that interpretation of the “exercise clause” is actually somewhat murky in case law. If appeals should wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court if might give the justices an overdue opportunity to better define what freedom the churches have — or don’t have — to practice what they preach.

THE GOVERNING rule of thumb is that church activities cannot be illegal unless the identical action is illegal for all Americans — for example, one can’t use narcotics as part of a religious service if no citizen is permitted to use drugs.

While the state does have an interest in protecting children against predators (that it set free), most on the registry don’t offend again ... and don’t target children either. It’s going to be very difficult to Georgia to maintain that singing in a church choir is so fraught with peril that no American can be allowed to sing the Lord’s praises.

NH - Dover to defend sex offender ordinance

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DOVER — The city is ready to defend its sex offender ordinance against a legal challenge by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

Earlier this week, the state filed a response at Dover District Court to the NHCLU's motion in May to dismiss on behalf of convicted sex offender Richard Jennings, and with the city insists the ordinance is not only legal, but a legitimate safety measure.

However, the NHCLU has asked the court to both drop the ordinance violation charge against Jennings and to rule the ordinance itself unconstitutional.

The ordinance —Dover City Code, 131-20 — prohibits registered sex offenders from residing within 2,500 feet of a school or day care center. Jennings is scheduled to go to trial for violating the city ordinance on July 21 at 9 a.m.

In the motion, the state asks for the dismissal of the NHCLU's motion and claims the ordinance was properly enacted and is constitutional. The NHCLU claims the city had no right to establish such an ordinance because the Legislature doesn't authorize cities to regulate where various people or classes of people can reside.

There have been multiple instances where the state has permitted towns to enact a broad range of ordinances relating to health, safety and welfare under the prudential affairs clause, according to the state's motion.

"The State authorizes a city to enact ordinances for the well being of the city and its residents, providing 'the ordinance is not "repugnant" to the laws of the state,'" the motion says.

The motion goes on to list multiple examples.

The state also claims that extensive research was conducted prior to drafting the ordinance, which included researching other similar state legislation, case law and other sex offender residency rules.

In addition, the motion says the city also sought the advice of several renowned sex offender experts and studies regarding sex offender recidivism rates against children were compiled.

"Based upon the findings from this research, the City determined restricting sex offenders against children from residing only within the 2,500 foot radius of schools and day cares was in the best interests and well being of the children and community," according to the motion.

Prior to filing its motion in May, the NHCLU filed a civil suit against the city on behalf of Jennings, also claiming the ordinance was unconstitutional. Jennings' attorney, Barbara Keshen, later decided to drop the suit in April, in order to fight the ordinance in the lower court, thereby moving the case along faster and allowing her to defend Jennings at his ordinance violation hearing.

It's likely the case will end up in the Supreme Court, regardless of who wins their battle at the district court.

Since Dover enacted its ordinance in 2005, the communities of Tilton, Franklin, Northfield and Boscawen have followed suit with similar ordinances. Other communities have also considered such ordinances.

Jennings, 41, was charged with violating the ordinance in November 2007 after being charged with felony-level failure to register as a sexual offender for not notifying police that he moved from Portsmouth to 175 Locust St. in the city.

Since 175 Locust St. is located about 1,200 feet from My School Kindergarten at 118 Locust St., police also charged him with the ordinance violation. Jennings was convicted in May 2000 on a charge of felonious sexual assault on a minor. Since the victim was 15 at the time of the offense, Jennings is required to register as a sex offender for life.

He was arrested again in April for also living at the Locust Street address and not registering with city police. Jennings had claimed he was living with his parents in Epping, but several neighbors tipped police off about Jennings still living at the address, which led to police performing surveillance in the area.

He is currently serving a six-month jail sentence at the Strafford County House of Corrections for these two charges.

His fiancée, Janice Sessler, 47, of 175 Locust St., was also arrested in April and charged with one felony count of registration of criminal offenders, which alleges she harbored Jennings when police tried to arrest him at her residence on a felony charge of duty to report. That case has been forwarded to Strafford County Superior Court for possible indictment by a grand jury.

Sex, Sex Everywhere

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How Big of a Problem Is Our Sexualized Culture?

Sex today seems to be everywhere. It's certainly more present in the public square than before. But how big a problem is this? When I was growing up, many people believed that sex must be kept out of sight, because it would corrupt the minds of children and lead to sexually deviant behavior.

That was why when Lucille Ball, the star of the most popular television show, "I Love Lucy," got pregnant, showing that was considered shocking and a breakthrough, even though the word "pregnant" was never spoken.

Today, television has traveled miles from "I Love Lucy." Now, even on family television shows, sex is a regular story line, and that bothers a lot of people. "The intention is clearly to bring up this sexual desire, and I don't think that's beneficial for our society," says Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at Family Research Council. Particularly disturbing, says Sprigg, is what children are seeing. "They are being exposed to sex and to talk about sex before they're even old enough to even think about having sex." Sprigg adds, "Television is going downhill fast and the programmers sometimes seem to me to be racing each other to see how they can push the envelope in terms of negative sexual content."

Family Research Council and similar groups feel there is a tremendous cost to society from this type of media exposure to sex. "I see the harm in the rise of sexually transmitted diseases," says Sprigg. "I see the harm in the increase in out of wedlock pregnancies and births. We see the harm in the increase in single-parent households. All of these things have significant harm for the country."

Others say that's just not so.

"There are groups of people out there who are devoted to scaring the heck out of Americans about sexuality," says Marty Klein, Ph.D., author of "America's War on Sex." Klein says, "It makes some people feel good because they say, Aha, there's the enemy and if only we could do something about that, everything would be better."

Klein points out that the dire predictions of anti-sex crusaders have not happened, and that despite all the increased focus on sex in America, most of the news is good.

Statistics prove Klein has a point. In recent years, the rape rate has dropped, as has the birthrate among teen girls. And this happened, as not just the media, but as the world around us seems to be coarser. There's sexy lingerie shown on scantily clad mannequins in store windows. And there's sex all over kids' computers. Protesters once picketed stores that dared sell Playboy and Penthouse, but now little kids with e-mail accounts get spam offering penis enlargers. It's estimated that the average age of first Internet exposure to pornography is 11 years old.

That's why people like Sprigg feel we need tougher regulations on pornography and we need to protect children from sexual images.

That's easier said than done, Klein maintains. "The truth is children think about sex whether we want them to or not, children think about sex. Children don't need our help to think about sex."

It's all part of what Klein sees as over-reaction and hysteria about sex in America. Klein points to how in Europe, kids are exposed to more sex than in the United States, from nude beaches to things like more sexually explicit television commercials. Yet, says Klein, all that sex and nudity hasn't caused European countries to experience more sex-related crimes.

"The issue really is," says Klein, "is the stuff out there that you and I don't like, is it dangerous? And the good news is that for the most part, the unsavory sexual things that people are exposed to isn't dangerous — it may be unpleasant, but it's not dangerous."

CA - High Court Ruling on Sex Offenders Not Retroactive

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A state Supreme Court ruling that allows judges to free defendants convicted of oral copulation of minors from the sex offender registration requirement is not retroactive, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.

Dismissing Andrew Picklesimer’s appeal from the denial of his motion to remove the requirement and remove the former high school teacher from the state sex offender registry, the court said the trial judge was correct in ruling that he lacked jurisdiction because the defendant’s conviction became final long before the motion was filed.

Picklesimer has been subject to sex offender registration since 1993, when he entered into a plea bargain in Trinity Superior Court. Originally charged with offenses against two minors, he pled guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse, oral copulation, and digital penetration, all involving a 17-year-old girl.

As part of the plea, he acknowledged that the digital penetration and oral copulation convictions required him to register as a sex offender.

Charges involving a younger girl, who was said to be reluctant to testify, were dismissed. Judge William Lund imposed consecutive upper term sentences.

Picklesimer raised only one issue on appeal, arguing that the separate sentences violated Penal Code Sec. 654, which prohibits multiple punishments for the same crime. The Court of Appeal disagreed, affirming in an unpublished opinion.

Years later, the state Supreme Court decided People v. Hofsheier (2006) 37 Cal.4th 1185, holding that mandating sex offender registration for all defendants convicted of oral copulation of a minor was unconstitutional as a matter of equal protection because the crime is similar to unlawful sexual intercourse, as to which the trial court has discretion as to whether to require registration.

To remedy the violation, the high court declared that judges have discretion as to whether to require registration for those convicted of oral copulation.

Following the decision, Picklesimer moved to lift the requirement that he register. In support, he filed a psychological report purporting to show that he had no sexual compulsion and was unlikely to reoffend. The district attorney argued in opposition that the court had no jurisdiction, that the plea bargain precluded relief from the registration requirement, and that relief, even if available, was unwarranted in light of the defendant’s conduct.

Judge James Woodward agreed with respect to jurisdiction and denied the motion without a ruling on the merits.

On appeal, the defendant and the attorney general agreed that the matter should be remanded to the trial court so that the judge could exercise his discretion as to whether to grant the motion. But the Court of Appeal said they were both wrong, the trial judge was correct, and the order was non-appealable.

Justice Fred Morrison, writing for the court, explained that Hofsheier did not address the effect of the holding on cases in which appellate rights were exhausted.

The defendant, Morrison said, had shown no basis for an exception to the general rule that a court may not alter the consequences of a criminal conviction that has become final.

Exceptions to that rule exist, he acknowledged, where created by statute or where the prior disposition was “unauthorized.” But there is no statute that allows a court to remove the sex offender registration requirement post-conviction, he noted, and he rejected the argument that Hofsheier rendered the disposition of Picklesimer’s case “unauthorized.”

“It was not unauthorized when it became final, and Hofsheier still allows registration for persons who commit the crimes of which defendant stands convicted,” Morrison wrote. “The judgment is not unauthorized within the meaning of the rule that an unauthorized sentence may be corrected at any time.”

The case is People v. Picklesimer, C056385.

IA - Alleged arsonist targeted day care

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This is only a wild guess, but since this man is a registered sex offender, and they cannot live near day care centers, I wonder if this was a deliberate attempt to get rid of the day care, so he could continue to stay where he was at?


A man accused of starting a fire in a Council Bluffs day care faces charges of burglary and arson.

Bobby Jo Stevens, 27, was arrested June 27 and charged with second-degree burglary and second-degree arson after allegedly setting a fire in the basement of Mother Goose Child Care Center.

Council Bluffs police reports indicated officers were called to the center, 108 N. 22nd St., after a witness saw a man on the property at 11:40 p.m. Reports stated the man jumped a fence and fled the area when seen by the witnesses.

Officers arrived and checked the day care and saw smoke and a small fire in the basement. Officer Scott Halbrook entered the building through a window and put out the fire with an extinguisher.

Court documents stated Stevens gained entry through a window on the north side of the building, and put a large amount of paper plates on the stove and turned the stove on.

The building sustained a small amount of smoke and fire damage, estimated at $600.

Investigators spoke to three witnesses who saw Stevens before the fire and burglary occurred. Two of the witnesses picked Stevens' picture out of a photo lineup.

An affidavit for a warrant for Stevens' arrest stated that identification technicians with the police department dusted the stove, screen and window for fingerprints. A palm print was discovered on the window, and technicians used the automated fingerprint identification system to discover it belonged to Stevens.

Documents stated Stevens was living at a homeless shelter in Omaha at the time of the crime because of his status as a registered sex offender. Stevens also has a record of arrests including assault, failure to appear, indecent contact with a child and probation violation.

The public defender's office was appointed to represent Stevens, and an initial appearance hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. Stevens is being held at Pottawattamie County Jail on $50,000 bond.


TX - Officer conduct ignored

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BROWNWOOD -- Attorneys allege that at least three complaints of inappropriate conduct by a Brownwood police officer were reported to the department as far back as 2004, but no action was taken.

The allegations are in a letter to the city from attorneys representing victims of the officer and their families. The letter, obtained by the Abilene Reporter-News through the Freedom of Information Act, requests mediation and names the city of Brownwood, Police Chief Virgil Cowin and former Sgt. Vince Ariaz as possible defendants in a lawsuit.

Ariaz, 54, pleaded guilty May 27 to two counts of sexual assault of a child involving a 15-year-old female member of the Police Explorers program, of which he was in charge.

Ariaz pleaded no contest to an indecency with a child charge involving a 2004 incident. He accepted a plea deal and received three 20-year concurrent prison terms.

City Attorney Pat Chesser sought an opinion from the attorney general's office before releasing the letter Thursday.

Chesser said all parties have agreed to the mediation, which is scheduled for July 25 and will allow the city to settle the case out of court. He declined to comment on the case but confirmed it has been discussed in executive session during at least two City Council meetings.

"We cannot comment on the truth or voracity of the allegations," Chesser said.

The letter refers to the cases of the two victims in the incident for which Ariaz has been imprisoned.

The letter, sent by Austin attorney Scott Ozmun in April, alleges Ariaz is a serial sexual predator and began preying in 2004 on a 16-year-old victim who was a member of the Explorers program. The letter alleges that in 2004 Ariaz sent sexually explicit text messages to a 16-year-old member of the Explorers program on her cell phone and also fondled her in the storeroom at the police department.

The victim's boyfriend reported the incident to Sgt. Tracy Delgado, who reportedly contacted Chief Cowin but was allegedly told by Cowin not to write up a report. The letter indicates the victim subsequently quit the Explorers program and reported the incident to Cowin herself and claims Cowin "didn't believe her."

Cowin declined to comment Thursday but said he would issue a statement after consulting his attorney.

The letter indicates that Delgado presented the allegations again in January 2007 to then-Sgt. Dennis Weathermon, who interviewed the victim. The victim also was interviewed by Texas Ranger Nick Hanna in late January 2007. The investigation into Ariaz's activities began three weeks before his arrest in July 2007, according to Reporter-News archives.

"Shockingly, despite these complaints, no investigation was undertaken into the Explorer Post and Sgt. Ariaz," the letter states.

Ariaz was indicted in September on 27 counts of sexual assault of a child and two counts of indecency with a child involving a 15-year-old female member of the Explorers program after being caught on video July 17, 2007, during a sting operation conducted by the Texas Rangers, Brownwood police and the Brown County Sheriff's Office.

Chesser said the city has retained legal counsel from attorney John Mark Hogue of the Texas Municipal League. Austin attorney Jeffrey Jury will serve as the mediator in the case.