|Sheriff John Jordan|
By Scott Moyers
As a newly elected sheriff in 1995, John Jordan liked the idea that was then in its infancy -- a public registry of the "worst of the worst" sex offenders. By Jordan's estimation, such a public listing of convicted rapists, child molesters and perpetrators of other violent sexual offenses could only help potential victims and their families stand guard against attack of what seemed to be a growing number of would-be predators.
In the years since, however, Jordan says he has watched as the list has been bloated by perhaps well-meaning lawmakers who continue to expand the registry to include some who, while technically lawbreakers, don't belong among the state's harshest sex offenders.
"There are so many people who get on the list anymore, it's hard to see who the real predators are," Jordan said. "When you look at these laws, it's something to be concerned with. There are people who definitely deserve to be on these lists and those who probably don't need to be there."
That's why this spring, Jordan, now nearly two decades on the job, stood in front of Missouri legislators who were considering a bill to drastically cut back on the state's offender registry rolls. In what he described as an informational discussion, he presented testimony to House members who were about to vote.
As proposed, the legislation would eliminate mandatory registration for some offenses, such as promoting obscenity, as well as outline a course for some offenders to have their names removed from the list early based on the severity of the crime. Missouri has more than 13,000 people on its sex offender registry, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, with crimes running the gamut from rape to consensual sex with minors.
The House, as it did in 2010, again passed the bill by a wide margin largely with bipartisan support. But the bill, as before, stalled in the Senate. This year's rejection, however, came with a concession -- the creation of the Joint Committee on the Missouri Criminal Code charged with making recommendations on which of the offenses that require registration should be removed. The law directs the committee to "evaluate removal of offenses from the sexual offender registry which do not jeopardize public safety or do not contribute to the public's assessment of risk associated with offenders."
The committee is to present recommendations to Missouri lawmakers by the end of the year.
With the committee already holding hearings to gauge public sentiment, some locally welcomed the news that the laws could soon be changed.
"When you have that many offenses, the list becomes meaningless," said Gordon Glaus, a Cape Girardeau defense lawyer who has represented a number of accused sex offenders. "It's gone overboard. But these are popular laws for legislators to run on. The alleged evil sex offender is a great punching bag for politicians."
|Attorney Morley Swingle|
Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle, whose office works daily to prosecute such offenders, thinks that the laws have already been fine tuned.
"The legislators have gone back and forth and tinkered with it every way they could," Swingle said. "What we're left with is a law that is working pretty much the way it was intended."