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Lawsuit argues that pre-1995 conviction shouldn't count.
A registered sex offender is moving to the area, and he doesn't want you to know who he is.
A man using the pseudonym "John Doe" filed suit against Webster County Sheriff Ron Worsham, the county's prosecutor and the superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol this week, hoping a 30th Circuit Court judge will rule he doesn't have to register as a sex offender in Missouri.
The plaintiff contends being forced to register would leave him "disadvantaged and harmed."
More important, he argues that since he was convicted of a sex offense before Missouri established its sex offender registry in 1995, he shouldn't have to register. The Missouri Supreme Court has agreed with that notion in the past.
"The suit that we have filed merely seeks clarification of the statute," said attorney Jason Umbarger, who filed the petition. "It's not an attempt to avoid the statute. He doesn't know what he's supposed to do."
According to the suit, "John Doe" pleaded guilty in Georgia in 1993 to two counts of child molestation.
He served three years in prison for the offense and completed seven years of probation, the suit says. He is required to register as a sex offender in Georgia.
The man has now secured employment in Missouri and is in the process of moving to Webster County, Umbarger said.
But "John Doe" doesn't want his face, address and past crimes to crop up on Web sites that list Missouri's sex offenders. So the suit asks a judge to determine whether the man must register.
It argues that forcing him to do so would amount to retroactive punishment, since the registry went into effect on Jan. 1, 1995, more than a year after his conviction.
"Fifteen years ago, he did some really stupid stuff," Umbarger said. "He's been trying to live it down ever since."
The Missouri sex offender registry law -- known in most states as a "Megan's Law" --says those who were convicted of a qualified sex offense in another state as far back as 1979 must register if they move to Missouri.
But a 2006 Missouri Supreme Court decision disagreed.
In that case, justices found "Missouri's Megan's Law cannot be enforced against offenders who, prior to its January 1, 1995 effective date, pleaded guilty to or were found guilty of crimes included in the registration law."
The opinion did not differentiate between those who committed a sex crime in Missouri and those convicted in other states. That ambiguity is a primary reason for "John Doe's" suit, Umbarger said.
As a result of the Supreme Court ruling, the sex offender registry maintained by the Missouri Highway Patrol no longer lists the addresses of 4,364 people whose most recent sex-offense conviction occurred before 1995.
But there's pressure to upend the court's ruling. Earlier this week, state senators endorsed a constitutional amendment that would allow retroactive enforcement of the sex offender registry.
If passed by both the Senate and House, that measure could appear on the November statewide ballot.
The Supreme Court's ruling is only part of Umbarger's argument.
The attorney also contends that Missouri's Megan's Law does not adequately separate offenders who might still be dangerous from those who are not.
"Many offenders required ... to register are not dangerous to others and have not been found to be dangerous sex offenders," the suit says. "Plaintiff is not dangerous to anyone."
And requiring "John Doe" to register would infringe on the man's rights to due process, the suit says.
Prior to filing in Webster County, Umbarger planned to plead his client's case in Greene County. He filed a similar suit against Greene County Sheriff Jack Merritt and the state of Missouri earlier this month.
But because "John Doe" has since decided not to move to Greene County, Umbarger said he will move to have the case dismissed.
Merritt, who had heard of the Greene County suit but not seen a copy, called it commendable that the plaintiff had sought to legally dodge the registry rather than simply fail to report his presence to authorities.
"If he is a mandated registrant here, I would expect him to comply," Merritt said. "My suggestion for him would be to find a state where the statutes might conform to what he wants."
The sheriff said there's no concrete system whereby his office is alerted of sex offenders moving into the area. Some jurisdictions will alert the department if they know an offender is moving into Greene County, he said.
"When you get down to it, they can move around a lot until you can't keep up with them that well," Merritt said. "I would never ever say that we have a complete registry."
If the sheriff's department does become aware of an offender coming into Greene County, deputies contact the offender.