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Registry Leads to Murder
April 19, 2006 permalink
The Maine sex offender registry has led to the vigilante death of two persons. The Boston Globe has found other similar deaths in the past.
Ontario maintains a child abuse registry. Unlike the sex-offender lists, most registered child abusers have never been convicted of a crime. The standards for entry onto the list are so lax that social service agencies do not take them seriously, as is shown by the events leading to the death of Jeffrey Baldwin.
The child abuse registry is not available online to the general public, but persons inside social services can read it easily, exposing parents to retribution by a more limited class of vigilantes.
Sex crime disclosure questioned
Maine killings refuel debate over registries
One of the two Maine sex offenders killed by an apparent vigilante was listed in the state's online registry because of a 2002 conviction for having sex with a minor when he was 19.
The death of William Elliott, 24, is reigniting the national debate over sex offender registries. His anguished mother said yesterday that he should not have been on the same list as criminals who preyed on children.
He had been convicted of having sex with a girlfriend who was two weeks shy of her 16th birthday, the mother said. "My son was not a pedophile," said Shirley Turner. "He shouldn't have been labeled that. . . . He just wanted to love that girl and make a family; that's all he wanted to do."
Without the registry, "he'd still be alive today," Turner said. ''I'd still have him."
In Massachusetts, information on only the most serious sex offenders is posted online, but in Maine everyone convicted of a sex crime is listed with an address and picture in a database accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.
Stephen A. Marshall looked up details on Elliott and Joseph L. Gray, 57, whom he is also suspected of shooting, along with 32 others on Maine's registry, state public safety officials said yesterday.
Shut down on Sunday while authorities searched for Marshall, who killed himself aboard a bus outside South Station in Boston as police closed in, Maine's online registry was reactivated yesterday afternoon. It still included information on Gray and Elliott, including their photographs and home addresses.
According to state records, Elliott pleaded guilty in 2002 to two misdemeanor counts of sexual abuse of a minor, the equivalent of statutory rape in Maine, where the age of consent is 16. He served four months in jail.
According to Gray's posting, he was convicted in Bristol County in Massachusetts in 1992 of indecent assault and battery on a child and rape of a child and was sentenced to four to six years in state prison.
Gray's daughter, Wendy Colby, 33, of Attleboro, said her father registered as a sex offender because authorities told him to do so. "He was just being a good citizen," she said. ''And look where it got him."
Stephen McCausland, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said police were able to track Marshall's searches of the offender list because users have to register to gain access to details of offenders' listings. Because Marshall registered with his real name and address, investigators could see which profiles he viewed, McCausland said.
McCausland said that about 2,200 sex offenders are listed in the registry, which he said is so popular that it crashed the state government website when it was first put up about five years ago. He said the site currently generates about 100,000 hits a month.
"It has been an informational tool that has worked for what it was intended to do: to provide the public information about convicted sex offenders," he said.
McCausland said officials will discuss making changes to the site as the investigation proceeds, including possibly restricting how much and what type of information about offenders is put online.
Representative Patricia A. Blanchette, cochairwoman of the Maine Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said yesterday that the state may need to reconsider posting the names of those convicted of statutory rape, having sex with those younger than 16.
She said, however, that she would resist any effort to shut down the site. "Because two people that were on that website were horribly killed doesn't take away the need for that website," she said.
Blake Harrison of the National Conference of State Legislatures said many states list all sex offenders in their online registries. Others, including Massachusetts, restrict the listings to the offenders considered at the highest risk to commit more crimes.
The online registries mushroomed after Congress passed a law in 1996 requiring states to disclose such information. More than 500,000 sex offenders are listed nationwide. All but four states offer at least the name and address of some sex offenders online.
Critics say that is dangerous not only for sex offenders, but the public at large.
"The strange thing about these lone vigilante cases is it's the address that's guilty," said Jack King, a spokesman for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Washington. "The person inside that home may or may not be the target, and the vigilante doesn't care.
A New Hampshire man, Lawrence Trant, is in prison for the attempted murders in 2003 of two convicted sex offenders whose names he found on the state's sex offender registry. In Washington state, 35-year-old Michael Anthony Mullen was sentenced last month to more than 44 years in prison for shooting to death two convicted child rapists whose names he found on a sex offender website.
State Senator Scott P. Brown, a Wrentham Republican, introduced legislation late last year to expand the Massachusetts registry to include all defendants convicted of sex offenses involving a child. The bill is still in committee, but Brown said the killings in Maine have not changed his mind about its importance. "The public's need for information outweighs any potential risks," he said yesterday.
Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, disagreed.
"If someone registered on the Internet is murdered, it's much less likely people will continue to register, and they will be driven underground," Rose said. "And that will make it harder to seek treatment for their problem."
Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com; Smalley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Boston Globe