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Sex offenders are easy prey for vigilantes

4-24-2006 Connecticut:

To find convicted sex offenders in your neighborhood, all you need is a computer with Internet access.

That's also all it takes for vigilantes to hunt down these offenders.

That's what happened this month in Maine, where 20-year-old Stephen A. Marshall shot and killed two registered sex offenders whose addresses he found on the state's on-line registry. Marshall then took a bus to Boston and shot himself to death as police officers were approaching to apprehend him.

This wasn't the first time a vigilante used a registry to find and kill sex offenders. Last August, a man in Bellingham, Wash., posed as an FBI agent to get into the home of two registered sex offenders and fatally shot both of them.

While Connecticut also lists all of its sex offenders on the Internet, vigilante retaliation has not been a problem here so far, said Sgt. J. Paul Vance, Connecticut State Police spokesman. The state's on-line registry includes photos and information about 4,053 convicted sex offenders, including each offender's name, address, birth date, race, height, weight and conviction information. Most people use the site for information, not retaliation, Vance said.

"It is clearly stated on the Web site and in the statute that using registry information for violent purposes is inappropriate and illegal," he said. "The site is there so that people can find out if any of these offenders live in their neighborhood."

Connecticut's registry was created in 1998 under the state's "Megan's Law," which is named for Megan Nicole Kanka, a 7-year-old from New Jersey who was raped and murdered in 1994 by a neighbor with a record of sex crimes.

While the federal Megan's Law requires all states to keep a registry of sex offenders, different states take different measures to comply with the statute. Forty-eight states post their registries of sex offenders on the Internet, said Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan's Law, a New York-based victims' rights organization.

But while violence against registered sex offenders has not been a problem in Connecticut, it's not uncommon for them to be harassed and threatened by their neighbors.

Anthony Bonacassio, 41, said the registry is destroying his life. In 1993, he was arrested on charges of third-degree sexual assault and first-degree unlawful restraint. He said he was arrested because he groped his girlfriend of two years as she was leaving his house after a dispute. He spent 30 months in jail.

Thirteen years later, he's still listed on the state's list.

"I've been harassed and threatened by neighbors who don't even know my story," Bonacassio said. "They think I'm a molester or something. And you can't really explain to them that it was a girlfriend, we were breaking up and fighting, and I grabbed her."

Bonacassio said he supports Megan's laws, but thinks the registry should do a better job distinguishing between offenders who are dangerous and those who aren't.

"They're putting people like me in the same category as pedophiles and rapists," he said.

Law enforcement officials and proponents of Megan's Law argue that the more information the state gives its residents, the safer these residents are. Information about sex offenders is particularly important because they are more likely to repeat their offenses than other types of criminals, Ahearn said.
While the study below does show that released sex offenders are statistically more likely to commit a new sex offense within 3 years of release, in reality the study shows that released non-sex offenders commit 6 sex offenses for every 1 committed by a released sex offender. That fact Ms. Ahearn fails to mention! see chart and review created from that DOJ study.
An analysis from the U.S. Department of Justice found that sex offenders who were released from state prisons in 1994 were four times more likely to be rearrested for sex crimes than other criminals. Of the released sex offenders, defined as "men who had committed rape or sexual assault," 5.3 percent were rearrested for another sex crime within three years.

Of the 48 states that post sex offender registries on the Internet, 26, including Connecticut, list every offender in their registry, Ahearn said. Even so, Connecticut's version of Megan's Law received a failing grade from Ahearn's organization, largely because it doesn't require officials to notify residents when offenders move to their neighborhood. She said her organization is in favor of listing all sex offenders, regardless of the charges.

These days, scanning a neighborhood for registered sex offenders is easy. The Web site allows users to plug in an address, a city, a state or a Zip code and instantly see a map with all the houses where registered sex offenders live. Clicking on a house brings up a photo of the offender with information such as height, weight, race, address and charges.

This months's murders in Maine did little to diminish the popularity of Megan's laws in Maine and across the nation. Maine took down the online registry the day of the crimes, but put it back up the next day. And while the Maine murders bolster civil libertarians' arguments that Megan's Law violates sex offenders' right to privacy, Ahearn said vigilante cases are extremely rare and in no way suggest the law should be reexamined.

"When civil libertarians come out against Megan's Law because of vigilante activity, that is unacceptable," she said "It was one particular disturbed person who, in his sick mind, made these people his target." ..more.. by GENNADY SHEYNER (Also in his personal blog)

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