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Panel to mull changes in online sex-offender list

Boston News, July 23, 2006 

PORTLAND, Maine -- Spurred by the Easter Sunday murders of two men who were listed on Maine's online registry of convicted sex offenders, a legislative panel Wednesday begins a study of potential changes to the list.

At issue will be whether to provide details of the offenses and focus only on the most dangerous offenders who are seen as the most likely to commit new crimes. 

"Right now, the registry has pretty much grouped everybody into one category," said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, who chairs the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee. "You get the 20-year-old there because of an improper relationship with a 15-year-old, and you have the other case, a 50-year-old man and a 2-year-old baby."

The panel decided to take up the issue after two men on the registry were hunted down and shot by a young man from Canada who turned his gun on himself when police closed in on him in Boston. Investigators determined that Stephen Marshall had researched the registry prior to the killings.

Marshall's two victims had been convicted of vastly different crimes. William Elliott, 20, of Corinth was convicted of having consensual sex with his girlfriend before her 16th birthday. Joseph Gray of Milo was convicted of felony "rape of a child" in Massachusetts and was sent to prison for four to six years.

The murders drew attention to the registry's failure to distinguish between offenders. 

"Not everyone arrested for drunk driving is an alcoholic, and not everyone arrested for a sex crime is a pedophile," said Jill Levenson, a professor and sex-crimes researcher at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

"Partly because certain types of very tragic and heinous crimes get a certain amount of media attention, it conveys to the public that all sex offenders are potential kidnappers and rapists of children," Levenson said. 

While all states make sex offender information available to the public, the amount of information varies. Massachusetts lists only its worst offenders and Vermont only those deemed "high risk." New Hampshire lists people convicted of offenses against children and indicates the general age of victims. By contrast, Maine's registry includes offenses from 25 years ago and offers little insight into what a person did to get listed.

Perhaps the toughest question facing the committee is which offenders are the most worrisome. 

"Sex offenders across the board do not have any higher degree of recidivism than car burglars or drunk drivers, but there are a narrow class of them, 5 percent, who really are going to go out and re-offend. They are the sexually-fixated pedophile," said Walter McKee, an Augusta attorney who is president of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

McKee suggested limiting the crimes for which people must register to only the most serious. He said the registry has become less helpful as the Legislature has added crimes, encompassing offenders regardless of risk, and that confuses the public.

 [Articles & Essays - B]

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