Sunday, July 20, 2008

ANYTHING FOR RATINGS - Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

See the video at the end, or see the link above the video for more excerpts.

It's stuff like this, instead of spreading the facts, they propagate the lies and myths to heighten the fear factor to sell more videos, DVD's and get more viewers and ratings.  Sex, Fear, Death all sell very well.  And they exploit it to make themselves rich.

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit - The Seventh Year

The Seventh Season

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is a spin-off series of Law & Order. It has a similar format as its parent show. The major difference is the type of cases. "Special Victims Unit" (SVU) focuses on the special victims unit, which is responsible for investigating crimes of a horrific nature: sex crimes. Each episode contains gruesome detail about issues like incest, pedophilia, rape, etc. There is also a lot of focus on the emotional burden that the victims and the case detectives have to face. For more details about this series refer to DVD Talk's reviews of season one, season two, season three, season four, and season five.

In season seven, the SVU team has a variety of tough cases. The entertainment factor is high with great criminal investigations and intricate courtroom battles. The strength of this season is similar to past ones with solid character development as the SVU team deals with personal demons and convictions while trying to catch the bad guys. Despite the similar flow to past seasons, season seven has a slight difference. There is more focus on individual characters, rather then the team as whole. In fact, there are a few episodes with either Benson or Stabler having minimal presence. For instance, in "Name", forensic technician Millie Vizcarrando (Paula Garces, The Shield) teams up with Stabler to solve a cold case. There are a few episodes like "Name" that change up the tempo. In most cases the deviation works, but the better episodes have Benson, Stabler, Munch, and Tutuola working in tandem. Nevertheless, season seven is still quite strong.

The season opens with the episode "Demons", which is very powerful and exhilarating. Robert Patrick guest stars as Ray Schenkel. Ray is a pedophile who spent the last twenty years in prison for raping a teenage girl. He comes out of prison with an open mind and the belief he is cured. Around the same time of Ray's release, a young girl is found raped and murdered. The original case detective William Dorsey believes Ray is the culprit. Dorsey convinces SVU to look at Ray for the crime. Stabler goes undercover as an ex-con. He befriends Ray and slowly enacts Ray to go back to his old habits. The episode is very emotional and focuses on Stabler struggling with his inner demons as he gets too close to the case. In addition, the borderline entrapment of Ray makes it hard for Cragen to support.

"Design" is the next episode and perhaps one of the most intriguing of the season. Benson reports to a call at a local hotel. She finds pregnant April Troost, who is contemplating suicide. April's pregnancy was the product of rape. Immediately, Benson develops a connection with April, as her past is of a similar nature. Benson works hard to do April right by helping her face her rapist. As the case develops, April's past turns out to be more than Benson bargained for. The episode is pretty emotional and puts Benson in a tough spot with some nice twists and turns.

As the season continues, there are numerous solid episodes that include "911", Benson gets a call from a young girl in captivity that everyone thinks is a prank, "Ripped", the son of Stabler's former radio car partner is accused for attacking a female friend, "Raw", the SVU team investigates a school shooting that leads them to white supremacists, "Storm", the team identifies three young girls who were abducted by a pedophile after Hurricane Katrina, "Taboo", a newborn baby is found in the trash that is connected to a twisted family relationship; Zeljko Ivanek guest stars, and "Class", a twenty-something college girl is found murdered and the investigation leads to a complex case involving undercover federal agents.

Overall, the season seven episodes have a variety of great plotlines that provide twists and turns as the cases get more complex for both the investigations and the courtroom trials. At the surface, the notion of rapes, murders, and crimes involving children has the potential to be repetitive, especially after several seasons. "SVU" does a fine job in its seventh season keeping the content fresh. While there are some similarities between cases, the plotlines are pretty creative with lots of twists and turns. The underlying character development is also a great aspect that allows the series to grow a bit while keeping the bulk of the show in an episodic format. The detectives unravel some pretty gruesome cases and the assistant district attorney consistently runs into tough, complex court cases. These aspects are what have helped keep the series fresh and entertaining. For fans of the show, this season is must.

Episode Guide

1. Demons: After 21 years, a sex offender is released from jail, but the retired officer who initially locked him up begs Detectives Benson and Stabler to follow the ex-convict and put him away for good.

2. Design: A suicidal girl confides in Benson that her pregnancy is the result of a rape by a successful businessman. But when the girl is willing to settle for money, Benson and Stabler become suspicious of her story.

3. 911: A disturbing 911 call from a nine-year-old has the detectives racing to find the source of the call, despite multiple phony leads.

4. Ripped: When a high school student is brutally attacked by one of her classmates, Detectives Stabler, Benson and Fin investigate Luke Breslin, the highly volatile son of Stabler's former partner.

5. Strain: A man is found murdered execution-style in the windows of his workplace, and the disturbing clues lead Detectives Benson and Fin to a gay circuit club that's also a meth hangout.

6. Raw: Detectives Benson and Stabler investigates a horrific school shooting, and evidence leads them to a gun store that also serves as the headquarters for a white supremacist group.

7. Name: When construction workers discover the remains of a young boy, Detective Stabler teams up with a CSU tech to resurrect a cold case of four boys who disappeared 30 years earlier.

8. Starved: A series of rapes are linked to a speed-dating service, so Detective Benson goes undercover to find the assailant and convince his highly unstable girlfriend to testify against him.

9. Rockabye: When a runaway is found badly beaten and suffering from a miscarriage due to her injuries, the detectives investigate an abortion clinic that seems to have ulterior motives in the case.

10. Storm: Benson and Stabler aggressively pursue a child molester who kidnapped three young sisters, while New York cops butt heads with federal authorities after the suspect is discovered to heave deadly anthrax.

11. Alien: When a severely injured 12-year-old boy is dumped outside a hospital, Detectives Benson and Stabler are led to a teenager seen beating the boy a week earlier.

12. Infected: A woman is found shot to death in her apartment, but the case becomes even stranger when Detectives Benson and Stabler discover a 14-year-old boy traumatized and hiding in the closest.

13. Blast: M.E. Warner visits the family of a recent kidnap victim to inform them of her findings, but when she delivers the diagnosis she is suddenly drawn into the kidnapper's deadly game.

14. Taboo: When a newborn baby boy is discovered in the trash, Detectives Benson and Stabler use a bar t-shirt found at the scene to trace the crime to a well-to-do daughter of a city councilman.

15. Manipulated: When the body of a murdered young woman is found in her apartment, Detectives Benson and Stabler discover she's a successful attorney - and stripper - which is apparently unknown to her fiance or boss.

16. Gone: Three teens are suspected of foul play when a high school girl disappears after a night of partying. But when one of the boys goes missing as well, ADA Novak decides to reevaluate the suspects.

17. Class: When a co-ed is found murdered with an unexplained influx of cash, the detectives investigate the various suspects: a roommate, her childhood friend and someone connected to a website where the victim was selling term papers for cash.

18. Venom: Detective Fin is torn between his family and the system when his son is roughed up and arrested for murder after digging in a vacant lot late at night.

19. Fault: Solid investigative work leads the detectives to search for a violent repeat sex offender who was recently put back on the streets and has kidnapped two children.

20. Fat: When teenage siblings attack and sodomize another girl, M.E. Warner and Detective Stabler conclude that the rime is related to the victim's weight.

21. Web: The police are brought into family abuse allegations when a woman believes her young son was molested by her husband, but the boy's older brother also comes under suspicion when it's discovered that he runs a porn site catering to pedophiles.

22. Influence: In the daring season finale, the highly controversial rant of a former rock star convinces an unstable young woman to go off her prescribed meds with deadly results.



The video is given in 1.78:1 ratio anamorphic widescreen color. Like previous season releases, the picture looks good. There are a few distortions in the picture during heavy movement and some minor compression artifacts, but nothing too bad. Overall it looks good.


The audio track included with this box set is in English 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound. The sound quality is good, the track is pretty clean and spoken dialogue is easily heard. The 5.1 track is dialogue driven and makes decent use of the surround sound capability when applicable. This release also has subtitles in English and Spanish.


There are no extras included with this DVD release.

Final Thoughts:

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is a television crime drama that takes a look at the gruesome side of crime by focusing on cases of a sexual nature. In particular, this series balances a fine level of character development while looking at disturbing and twisted cases from the detectives' investigations, court room procedures, forensic pathology, and psychological/emotional aspects. Season seven follows this general tone and provides one compelling episode after another. It is highly recommended.

Click here for more YouTube videos from the "DEMONS" show.

Does the Amber Alert Work?

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The Amber Alert system is more effective as theater than as a way to protect children

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF Brooke Bennett on June 25 seemed exactly the sort of case that the Amber Alert system was created for. The 12-year-old went missing from a convenience store in Randolph, Vt., and the next day state police issued an Amber Alert, Vermont's first. Local police and sheriffs' departments were put on notice. Television and radio cut into programming with emergency broadcast bulletins saying a young girl had vanished. News shows were told to ask viewers to call in with any sightings. Residents who had signed up for wireless Amber Alerts received warnings on their cellphones. And anyone playing the Vermont state lottery found, in the middle of the ticket, a reminder that a brown-haired, blue-eyed girl named Brooke was missing.

Since its birth 12 years ago after a fatal kidnapping in Texas, Amber Alert has quickly become one of the best-known tools in the national law enforcement arsenal. The warnings are familiar to anyone who watches cable TV news, especially during the summer, when the drumbeat of abduction stories seems to increase. Last year, 227 alerts were issued nationwide, each galvanizing interest in the local community and flooding police with tips. While the particulars of the state systems differ, the goal is the same: to disperse news of a kidnapping as widely and quickly as possible, in the hope that someone will spot the kidnapper before a child is harmed.

The program's champions say that its successes have been dramatic. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, more than 400 children have been saved by Amber Alerts. Of the 17 children Massachusetts has issued alerts on since it created its system in 2003, all have been safely returned.

These are encouraging statistics - but also deeply misleading, according to some of the only outside scholars to examine the system in depth. In the first independent study of whether Amber Alerts work, a team led by University of Nevada criminologist Timothy Griffin looked at hundreds of abduction cases between 2003 and 2006 and found that Amber Alerts - for all their urgency and drama - actually accomplish little. In most cases where they were issued, Griffin found, Amber Alerts played no role in the eventual return of abducted children. Their successes were generally in child custody fights that didn't pose a risk to the child. And in those rare instances where kidnappers did intend to rape or kill the child, Amber Alerts usually failed to save lives. In the case of Brooke Bennett, police quickly began to suspect an uncle with a history of sex crimes, and a week after she disappeared, investigators found her body in a shallow grave a mile from her uncle's house.

"Amber Alert is a victim of its own fantastically good intentions," says Griffin. "If someone gets ahold of a kid and has sufficiently nasty intentions, in the long run there's not much we can do."

Defenders of the program reject Griffin's argument. Some dismiss it as needless hair-splitting, while others question his data. And, considering the grim stakes, most see little point in criticizing a tool that saves any lives at all. "If an Amber Alert saves any child, don't you think it was worth it?" says Terrel Harris, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

What Amber Alerts do create, its critics say, is a climate of fear around a tragic but extremely rare event, pumping up public anxiety. Griffin calls it "crime control theater," and his critique of Amber Alerts fits into a larger complaint on the part of some criminologists about crime-fighting measures - often passed in the wake of horrific, highly publicized crimes - that originate from strong emotions rather than research into what actually works. Whether it's child sex-offender registries or "three strikes" criminal-sentencing rules, these policies, critics warn, can prove ineffective, sometimes costly, and even counterproductive, since they heighten public fears and distract from threats that are at once more common and more tractable.

"The problem with these politically expedient solutions is that they look good but do very little to solve the problem," says Jack Levin, a professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern.

The "Amber" in Amber Alert is an acronym - it stands for America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. It is also the name of Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl abducted and murdered in 1996 near her grandparents' house in Arlington, Texas. In the ensuing public outpouring of grief and frustration, a caller to a local radio station suggested that broadcasting information about the kidnapping over the radio might have saved Amber's life - thanks to a witness, the police knew what sort of car the kidnapper was driving.

The next year, radio stations and police departments in that part of Texas put in place a program to do just that. The idea quickly spread to other states, and in 2003 President Bush signed the PROTECT Act, directing all states to develop programs of their own, and providing funding and oversight through the Justice Department.

Amber Alerts have had some dramatic successes. One of the best-known is the kidnapping at gunpoint of two teenagers, Tamara Brooks and Jacqueline Marris, from a lovers lane near Los Angeles in 2002. Thanks to an Amber Alert that went out a few hours later, several motorists and a highway worker called in sightings of the kidnapper's stolen Ford Bronco. Sheriff's deputies used the tips to track down the kidnapper, fatally shooting him when he refused to surrender, and rescued the girls unharmed.

According to Griffin, however, such successes are exceedingly rare. Part of the problem is the nature of the crimes: In cases in which an abducted child is murdered, the killing usually happens within the first three hours, and few of the Amber Alerts Griffin looked at were issued that quickly. It takes time to notice a child is missing, and police then have to confirm that the report is not a hoax or a mistake.

Griffin considers his findings "preliminary": he and his team examined only a portion of the Amber Alerts issued over the three-year period they focused on, and did not have access to the full police reports on each case. But the overwhelming weight of the data, he argues, is unequivocal.

One of the main arguments for the effectiveness of Amber Alerts is that, in the vast majority of kidnappings in which Amber Alerts are issued, the children are returned safely. But most of those kids, says Griffin, would have been rescued whether an alert had been issued or not. Around 63 percent of Amber Alert issuances they looked at had "no direct effect on recovery," Griffin and his coauthors wrote in a paper last year in the Criminal Justice Policy Review. Instead, kidnappings were resolved in many cases by traditional police all-points bulletins and investigations - or because kidnappers simply changed their minds.

That still leaves a third of cases in which Griffin and his team found that Amber Alerts played a role, either because they brought in tips or because the kidnapper, seeing the alert, lost his or her nerve and released the child. When Griffin looked at those cases, however, what he found was that very few were the sort of imminent-harm situations Amber Alert was created for. In fact, only a tenth of Amber Alerts, he determined, helped rescue a child from what Griffin saw as a dangerous situation - and that group included situations in which an armed parent abducted his or her own child. While an armed parent is not something to be taken lightly, Griffin says, it's very different from a sexual predator with rape and murder on his mind.

"If a mom is told by a court she can't see her kid, doesn't trust her husband, and abducts the child, it's stretching reason to say we need an Amber Alert to save the kid's life," Griffin argues. He cites studies showing that, even before Amber Alert's existence, 70 percent of parental abduction cases were resolved in less than a week.

"Thus, AMBER Alert 'failures' are usually cases when there was little hope and 'successes' are merely instances when there was relatively little threat," Griffin and fellow criminologist Monica Miller wrote in a paper earlier this year. "An AMBER Alert is therefore essentially irrelevant compared to the main factor (the perpetrator's intention) that determines an abducted child's fate."

To supporters of the system, these arguments are at once misguided and dangerous. To say that only children snatched by unrelated child rapists are truly in danger, they argue, is setting the bar too high. Any abduction is deeply traumatic for a child, they argue, and a parent with a gun has certainly put that child in harm's way.

"There's an extremely high level of danger in violent domestic disputes," says Robert Hoever, who directs the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Amber Alert program.

But more generally, Amber Alert's defenders take issue with the idea that a low success rate should be seen as a fault with the program. Just because the Amber Alert system doesn't save more children than it does, they argue, hardly qualifies it as a failure.

"It doesn't cost anybody anything," argues Tyler Cox, operations manager for radio station WBAP, chairman of the Dallas/Fort Worth Amber Plan Task Force, and one of the people who helped create the original Amber Alert. "There's no expense to operating an Amber Alert system if you're doing it the right way."

- And I agree here.  If it costs nothing, then it should be kept.  It may help.  But, what worries me, is the FEAR FACTOR it produces in the town the alert is for.

Critics, however, measure the price of the program not in money but in broader social costs, in anxiety, panic, and misdirected public energy. Amber Alert and other measures "generate the appearance, but not the fact, of crime control," Griffin and Miller wrote. In so doing, such crime-fighting efforts reinforce misconceptions about what we should and shouldn't be afraid of.

"It creates a sense of paranoia, not only in parents, but in children themselves," says James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University professor of criminal justice.

Historically, crimes against children have shown a particular tendency to inspire strong measures. The criminologist Kristen Zgoba, now a researcher with the New Jersey Department of Corrections, has looked at the genesis of Amber Alert and Megan's Law (named after a raped and murdered 7-year-old, Megan's Law established state registries for sex offenders). Zgoba argues that while the number of stranger abductions and murders of children has remained steady over the years, public fear around the issue has fluctuated wildly, cohering into national panics from time to time, as in the summer of 2002, when several high-profile disappearances led cable news channels to proclaim the "summer of abduction."

- I've said this as well, these laws and issues help spread mass hysteria and moral panics.

In fact, according to Fox, stranger abductions remain exceedingly rare: In the United States, he calculates, the odds of a child being kidnapped by someone he or she doesn't know are roughly one in a million. "We tell kids, 'Don't talk to strangers, they all want to abduct you,' but if a child needs assistance, a stranger will generally help them, not hurt them," Fox argues.

This is, of course, little consolation to parents who have lost children to kidnappers. But, according to Fox, if we want to save children's lives, we'd do better to worry about loosely enforced bicycle helmet and seat-belt laws, or the safety standards of school buses - all of which are much more statistically dangerous but lack comparably high-profile systems for stoking public concern.

And, according to Griffin, even when children die at the hands of adults, it's usually not because they were stolen from their home - on the contrary, it's the home situation itself that's deadly.

"When a child dies, in the vast majority of cases it's going to be a kid you've never heard of in a part of town you've never gone," he says. "Savage beatings, drug abuse, kids not being fed, that type of crime happens far more often than the abduction and murder of little girls."

Drake Bennett is the staff writer for Ideas. E-mail

© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

IA - Expert witness's porn problem gets 2 Iowa offenders new trials

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We should start giving all witnesses and criminal experts and maybe therapists the penile plethysmograph to see if they have deviant thoughts. Besides, if it's ok to make sex offenders take this tests, why not the ones administering the tests? You can also see the video at the end, which explains why I mention this.  Also, those who scream the loudest about gays, sex offenders or other issues, usually are hiding something themselves, just take Mark Foley as one example.


Two Iowa sex offenders locked up for a possible lifetime of mental-health treatment will get new trials because the chief witness against them has admitted an addiction to child pornography.

Dr. Joseph Belanger, a North Dakota psychologist, has not been criminally charged, but he was forced to leave his hospital job after he notified bosses that federal authorities had seized his home computer.

Belanger, in a Nov. 27 letter to a North Dakota licensing board, blamed childhood sexual abuse and the fact that he has "been so frightened of the world and of women that I mostly used pornography ... as an outlet."

The letter sparked reviews of more than 145 cases Belanger was involved in. Judges in Lee and Scott counties cited Belanger's admission when they granted new trials for two men who were locked up in part based on Belanger's opinion that they are dangerous.

Belanger's revelation also is expected to factor in at least one appeal before the North Dakota Supreme Court.

Steve Addington, a public defender whose office has represented most of the accused sexual predators in Iowa over the past decade, confirmed that Belanger's admission and the ripple effect from it represents a first in Iowa.

Iowa court records show Belanger has been paid $30,763 since 2006 to evaluate six accused sexual predators. He testified against Paul Michael Blaise, 35, in a Lee County case, and Clay Morgan Spears, 50, in Scott County.

Both men, who already have served time for their crimes, have been granted new trials at which state lawyers will again try to prove they should be confined indefinitely for mandatory treatment.
- Wow, this is so wrong.  Ever heard of double-jeopardy?  This man was sentenced and has done his time, now they are trying him again on the same issues to see if they can get him in prison for life.  THE CONSTITUTION IS WORTHLESS!!!

"The disturbing nature of Dr. Belanger's own deviate behavior ... is sufficiently large to undermine the court's confidence in the jury verdict that may be largely based on that testimony," Judge J. Hobart Darbyshire ruled last month in Spears' case. "Presumably ... the state will be able to secure a new evaluation of the respondent by an expert not burdened with the same problems Dr. Belanger has."
- Hmm, why don't sex therapists and any other therapists for that matter, get background checks done, and also made to go through the same sexual deviancy tests that they administer to others, to make sure they themselves are not closet sexual offenders?

Belanger, 60, also made psychological assessments of four other convicted predators whose confinement cases have not yet gone to court. Assistant Iowa Attorney General Becky Goettsch said three of the four have been re-evaluated by new psychologists. The fourth man - Belanger concluded that involuntary treatment was not warranted - will be given "the benefit of the doubt, if you will," she said.

Belanger's work in Iowa was part of a 10-year-old law that allows authorities, with a judge's and jury's approval, to keep convicted offenders with a history of sexual violence confined for treatment regardless of their scheduled release from prison. The Sexually Violent Predator Act requires expert testimony to prove that an offender has a mental defect and is more likely than not to commit another crime if set free.
- But who is testing the experts to make sure they are not closet sex offenders themselves?

Court records show Blaise was a teenager when he was first arrested in 1991 for the sexual assault of a 9-year-old friend of his younger sister. In a 2005 incident, Blaise, armed with a BB gun, repeatedly questioned a woman in a park about anal sex and how she might respond to a demand for sex if a weapon was put to her head.

Blaise and Spears have been repeatedly disciplined in prison for masturbation and exposure of their genitals to female corrections officials.

"In legal terms, Paul Blaise is a pain in the a$$," public defender Addington told jurors in Blaise's case last year. "He can be obnoxious. He can be inappropriate. But in America, we still haven't decided to commit people that are just pains in the a$$."
- You sound like a pain in the a$$ as well, maybe you should be given the tests to make sure you are not a closet sex offender or pedophile? And if we ever do put people in prison for "being an a$$," you should be the first to go, along with almost all of the general public.

Spears, who reads and writes at a second-grade level, was convicted in the sexual assault of a sales clerk in August 1985. In July 2006, an argument in a park led to assaults on a man and a woman that allegedly included sexual comments to the woman and attempts at forced oral sex.

A defense-paid psychologist, who did not testify at Spears' trial last September due to a scheduling problem, argued in a written report that the second incident was not sexually motivated and that Spears has no "mental disorder" that would benefit from sex-offender treatment.

Iowa prosecutors have appealed the decisions that granted both men new confinement trials. Both cases are in the pipeline to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The Iowa attorney general's office has targeted 143 alleged predators under the law since 1998. Fifty-six have seen their cases dismissed by judges or rejected by jurors. Another 13 either died while in treatment or benefited from court decisions that lifted them outside the law's reach.

Iowa officials say 74 predators now are confined indefinitely at Cherokee Mental Health Institute. Only one has completed treatment, and he later was returned after he failed a lie-detector test. Five now are in "transitional release," a two- to five-year process by which patients are eased back into the community.

Cases typically start with a review by a committee of prosecutors and corrections officials while the accused is still in prison. Records of any candidate deemed dangerous are handed over to a state-paid psychologist. If the expert agrees, state lawyers file court papers to keep the inmate behind bars until a formal trial on whether he or she is a predator.

Belanger, of Jamestown, N.D., could not be reached for comment. His former bosses did not return phone calls.

North Dakota's licensing board for psychologists reported that Belanger's professional credentials are active, although an investigation is pending. Belanger resigned from North Dakota State Hospital shortly after examiners received his November letter, in which Belanger stressed that he has worked with a Zen teacher and that "I believe recovery is possible."
- So he is diagnosing himself?

"In retrospect, I can see that because of my own issues, I should have ... let somebody else do" the assessment of accused predators, Belanger wrote. "I found it appalling and frightening."
- A drug user can get help if they have problems, a DUI offender as well, but someone who is having inappropriate sexual thoughts, or, like this man, viewing child porn, where can they go to get help?  No where!

The two-page letter includes Belanger's admission that he downloaded illicit "pictures of girls who were about the same age I had been" when he was abused.

The photos apparently had been deleted by the time federal agents arrived at Belanger's home.

In the meantime, state prosecutors continue to defend Belanger's professional conduct. Prosecutors argue that the psychologist's porn problems should have no bearing on the appeals, since any new jury is likely to come to the same conclusion. Other experts have agreed that Spears and Blaise are dangerous and need to be confined, lawyers say.

"Obviously, we're not defending his pedophilia," Mary Tabor, appeals supervisor for the Iowa attorney general's office, said of Belanger. "But it's our position that the work appears to be solid."

FL - Man Sets Porn Arrest Record In Orange County

DE - Court sex offender registry bill awaits signing

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Yet another registry, on top of the sex offender registry.


A bill that would put the names of people found liable for sexual abuse in Delaware's civil courts onto a court-administered public registry awaits Gov. Minner's (Email) signature.

State Sen. Karen Peterson (Email), D-Stanton, sponsor of the bill, said it is the second part of the 2007 Child Victim's Act.

The bill -- S.B. 319 -- was introduced late in the session, June 19, but passed both chambers (20-1 in the Senate, 24-6 in the House with nine not voting and two absent) before lawmakers adjourned in the wee hours of July 1.

The "Civil Sexual Abuse Report" would be posted in the courthouse and on the court's Web site and would include the name and address of the defendant and the offense for which he or she was found liable. It would not include those whose cases were settled out of court, Peterson said.

Minner must decide early this week if she will sign it, spokeswoman Kate Bailey said. Minner's legal counsel still is reviewing the bill, Bailey said.

A bill introduced by state Rep. Greg Lavelle (Email), R-Sharpley, that would remove the state's sovereign immunity in cases of child sexual abuse died this session, never emerging from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He will bring it back next year, he said.

"To me, the issue is child sexual abuse -- the failure of institutions charged with the safety and protection of children -- and the state of Delaware gets a pass," he said. "My 8-year-old son is cognitively disabled. He cannot speak. He goes to public school. He is a symbol of the at-risk youth who are molested at a much higher rate. ... And that institution has continued to hold on to its immunity. What are they afraid of?"

Peterson says Lavelle's bill is unnecessary, that the 2007 law allows suit for "gross negligence," including schools, school districts, and public employees.

Contact Beth Miller at 324-2784 or

DE - Minner signs tougher predator penalties

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Registry loophole closed, child porn laws updated

Two measures designed to strengthen the state's laws to protect children from child predators have been signed into law by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (Contact).

The bills, which passed by wide margins in both houses of the Legislature and were sponsored by Attorney General Beau Biden (Email), increase the state penalties related to child pornography offenses and eliminate a loophole in the state's sex offender registry law.

Several recent high profile child pornography cases in Delaware were prosecuted in federal court in part because investigators and prosecutors agreed the offenders faced far stronger penalties in the federal system.

"Tougher penalties for those who possess and distribute child pornography reflect the harsh reality that pornographers are predators and must be punished accordingly," Biden said in a statement. "Delaware needs tough laws to keep kids safe from predators and I commend the governor and the General Assembly for giving prosecutors the tools they need to get criminals off the streets and away from our children."

According to Biden the new law:

  • Increases the penalties for unlawful sexual contact with children.

  • Toughens the penalties for possessing and distributing child pornography.

  • Establishes a mandatory prison sentence for distributing child pornography.

  • Broadens the law to account for all forms of child pornography, including the use of new electronic devices, such as camera phones and iPods.

The problem with the state's sex offender registry law -- which did not require someone to report an offense if they were convicted overseas or if they were convicted prior to 1994 -- came to light after a man convicted of repeated child molestation charges was picked up by federal authorities for failure to register.

Attorneys said the man had named Delaware as his home state -- after returning from serving a sentence for molestation abroad -- because of the loopholes in the Delaware law that allowed him to avoid registering.

He still faces federal charges, however, because investigators allege he never actually lived in Delaware but used an address in Wilmington as a mail drop while he lived and traveled elsewhere.

All of his U.S. convictions were prior to 1994 or overseas.

"It doesn't matter when, where, or how a predator victimized a child, that offender has nowhere to hide in Delaware," Biden said.

Contact Sean O'Sullivan at 324-2777 or

GA - Georgia Sex Offenders

NH - Convicted sex offender challenges a Dover ordinance

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When New Hampshire residents are convicted of sexual crimes, they assume a set of lifetime responsibilities. These may involve going to prison (and if they don’t appear to be rehabilitated perhaps remaining locked up longer than their sentences stipulated). Sex offenders are also prohibited for life from working with children. And if and when they are released from prison, they will probably find their names on the public sex offenders list and have to register their addresses with the communities in which they live.

This is an excruciatingly difficult area of the law. There are constitutional doubts about keeping people locked up after their sentences have expired. And the public offender lists, while perhaps helpful to neighbors, have resulted in vigilante murders in other states.

In New Hampshire, the question of how to deal with people convicted of sex crimes has been made more complicated by recent decisions in Boscawen, Dover, Franklin, Northfield and Tilton to prohibit registered sex offenders from living within a certain distance of schools or day care centers. And in Dover such prohibitions are being challenged by a man who moved within 2,500 feet of a kindergarten. He is backed by the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, which contends the ordinance is unconstitutional, that government has no right to regulate where people can live.

Many states and communities around the country have enacted similar laws in recent years — limiting various categories of people from living or working between 500 feet and 2,500 feet of schools and other institutions.

A Georgia law was overturned by the state Supreme Court on the grounds that it constituted an unconstitutional taking of property, only to replaced by another almost identical law earlier this year.

Eventually, these issues will be decided by the courts, perhaps by the U.S. Supreme Court. There are too many of them, and they go off in too many directions. And if you can tell sex offenders where they can’t live, how long will it be before society starts targeting violators of other laws?

Meanwhile, there are indications that residency laws are unwise, regardless of their constitutionality.

For one thing, they tend to be blanket prohibitions, applying not only to dangerous predators, but also to young men with underage girlfriends.

Also, communities in other states have found that residency laws can create dangerous concentrations of offenders, herded together or in close proximity. And, while many permissible living areas are far from work opportunities, keeping offenders unemployed and on the streets, they may well be in neighborhoods with large numbers of children.

Of course there is nothing in most of the laws to prevent someone who is prohibited from living near a children’s facility from taking a stroll out of the neighborhood.

And experts in criminal law say the best way to prevent recidivism by sexual offenders is by requiring and providing professional counseling.

- And not putting so much stress into their lives, which these draconian laws are doing.

New Hampshire has no state residency law for sex offenders, but the state government has decided to defend the Dover ordinance in court, calling it an acceptable safety measure. Perhaps so. Perhaps evidence to that effect will be produced when the case goes before a judge in October. But experience elsewhere raises doubts about the assumption that any law that makes life difficult for convicted sex offenders must always be good for the community.

PA - Will N.J. court ruling affect Pa.?

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Bensalem is a great place to live, unless you are a convicted sex offender.

In the last 18 months, township police have issued de facto eviction notices to five people, citing a 3- year-old local law that bars registered sex offenders from living in areas within 2,500 feet of places where kids congregate.

In the 20-square-mile town, only a small sliver is not off limits, though Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran declined to reveal where it is, citing concern for neighbors.

Bensalem council's president says there are no plans to expand that area despite last week's New Jersey court ruling that towns cannot ban sex offenders from living near places where children congregate.

“I wouldn't change anything — in fact, I wish I could make it tougher,” Councilman Joe Szafran said. “They don't have rights. I've got three grandsons, a granddaughter and one on the way. I'll be damned if I want any sex offender around them.”

- All people have rights, even criminals.

Pennsylvania has no pending legal challenges involving local community residency restrictions for Megan's Law offenders, said state police and the American Civil Liberties Union state chapter. But it might be only a matter of time.

Strict limits on where sex offenders can live has prompted hundreds of legal challenges in state and federal courts nationwide, according to an article in the June issue of the National Law Journal. But studies examining residency laws for sex offenders do not appear to show a correlation between proximity and repeat offenses.

New Jersey and Pennsylvania are not among the at least 21 states restricting where sex offenders can live, work or loiter under laws designed to provide information and notification to communities when court-declared sexually violent predators move into the neighborhood.

But the lack of state rules hasn't prevented towns in both states — and more than 400 local governments nationwide — from enacting local bans, according to the California Research Bureau.

Since 2005, more than a dozen Bucks and Montgomery county communities have adopted residency restriction laws that generally ban sex offenders on the state Megan's Law registry from living within 2,000 to 2,500 feet of schools, day care centers, parks, community centers and open space.

As of last week, nearly 10,000 sex offenders, including 253 sexually violent predators, were registered in Pennsylvania, including 415 living, working or attending school in Bucks County and 634 in Montgomery County.

Under Megan's Law, sex offenders have to register their home addresses with state police when they're released from prison. States that have the law maintain an Internet registry that the public can access. Also community notification is required when a court-declared sexually violent predator moves to the area.

The New Jersey state appeals court ruling upheld findings by judges who invalidated ordinances in Cherry Hill and Galloway townships that banned adults convicted of sex offenses against a child from living within 2,500 feet of any school, park, playground or church.

The higher court ruled that the state's Megan's Law is “pervasive and comprehensive and should be the only law governing how sex offenders are treated.

Civil rights organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that residency restrictions subject ex-cons to double jeopardy, deprive them of the right to move freely and inject local jurisdiction into a state-controlled regulatory process.

The courts appear to side with civil liberties supporters.

The Georgia Supreme Court recently struck down a residency restriction on Fifth Amendment grounds but upheld a portion that barred sex offenders from working in the restricted zones, according to the National Law Journal article.

Few studies have examined the connection between housing and sex offenses; results are mixed.

Arkansas found that 48 percent of child molesters lived in close proximity to schools, day care centers, or parks compared with 26 percent of perpetrators convicted of sex crimes against adult victims.

- But how many of these people actually committed their crime at a school, day care or park?

A 2004 Colorado study found that molesters who re-offended while under supervision were randomly scattered and did not seem to live closer to schools or child care centers than non-recidivists.

The Minnesota Department of Correction analyzed 224 sex offenders released between 1990 and 2002 and returned to prison on a new crime. It concluded that none of the sex offenses would likely have been deterred by a residency restriction law and most involved social or relationship proximity to a victim, not residential proximity.

The head of the Pennsylvania State Police Megan's Law Unit said his office gets few calls regarding residency restriction, and most are from offenders. State police don't keep track of towns with restrictions, Lt. Douglas Grimes said.

While the state police have no official stand on community residency restriction laws, Grimes pointed out they are a double-edged sword.

When you put a residency restriction, it can move them away from an area that you want to protect against, but it may very well cause them to be put into a position where it's more difficult to track their location and their movements,” he said.

- If they are out of prison, why do you need to track their movements?  If they are that dangerous then they should be in prison, but, a majority of people made to obey these restrictions, are not danger!

In Bucks County, residency rules are applied to offenders convicted only after the local law was adopted, unless the person moves out of the town; if he or she later returns to the town, the residency law is applied, local police said.

A random Web site check of some local towns found most convictions predated the local laws.

In Lower Makefield, three of at least five residents who appear on the Megan's Law registry were convicted after the township's 2005 law was adopted.

All of the half-dozen registered sex offenders living in Newtown Township were convicted before its 2006 law was adopted.

In Bristol Township, 31 of at least 34 registered sex offenders, including a sexually violent predator, were convicted before the 2005 residency law was adopted, according to the Megan's Law registry.

Still Bristol Township Lt. Chick McGuigan said police have removed “many” registered sex offenders attempting to move into forbidden areas; he estimated three or four times a month police notify offenders they have 45 days to move.

“We're just enforcing what the township solicitor and council passed,” McGuigan said. “Ours is still enforced.”

Of at least 18 Bensalem residents listed on the Megan's Law registry, only three were convicted after its law took effect. But Harran said keeping the local laws in place is something worth fighting for.

“Laws in New Jersey don't affect us here in Pennsylvania,” Harran added. “I wouldn't want a sex offender living next to me.”

- But you assume all sex offenders are out to harm children!  Not all are dangerous, some are on the registry for urinating in public, streaking or other minuscule charges.

Jo Ciavaglia can be reached at 215 949-4181 or

How reliable is DNA in identifying suspects?

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Great, now are they saying DNA is not as good as once thought?  If so, how many are in prison because of "bad DNA evidence?"


A discovery leads to questions about whether the odds of people sharing genetic profiles are sometimes higher than portrayed. Calling the finding meaningless, the FBI has sought to block such inquiry.

State crime lab analyst Kathryn Troyer was running tests on Arizona's DNA database when she stumbled across two felons with remarkably similar genetic profiles.

The men matched at nine of the 13 locations on chromosomes, or loci, commonly used to distinguish people.

The FBI estimated the odds of unrelated people sharing those genetic markers to be as remote as 1 in 113 billion. But the mug shots of the two felons suggested that they were not related: One was black, the other white.

In the years after her 2001 discovery, Troyer found dozens of similar matches -- each seeming to defy impossible odds.

As word spread, these findings by a little-known lab worker raised questions about the accuracy of the FBI's DNA statistics and ignited a legal fight over whether the nation's genetic databases ought to be opened to wider scrutiny.

The FBI laboratory, which administers the national DNA database system, tried to stop distribution of Troyer's results and began an aggressive behind-the-scenes campaign to block similar searches elsewhere, even those ordered by courts, a Times investigation found.

At stake is the credibility of the compelling odds often cited in DNA cases, which can suggest an all but certain link between a suspect and a crime scene.

When DNA from such clues as blood or skin cells matches a suspect's genetic profile, it can seal his fate with a jury, even in the absence of other evidence. As questions arise about the reliability of ballistic, bite-mark and even fingerprint analysis, genetic evidence has emerged as the forensic gold standard, often portrayed in courtrooms as unassailable.

But DNA "matches" are not always what they appear to be. Although a person's genetic makeup is unique, his genetic profile -- just a tiny sliver of the full genome -- may not be. Siblings often share genetic markers at several locations, and even unrelated people can share some by coincidence.

No one knows precisely how rare DNA profiles are. The odds presented in court are the FBI's best estimates.

The Arizona search was, in effect, the first test of those estimates in a large state database, and the results were surprising, even to some experts.

Defense attorneys seized on the Arizona discoveries as evidence that genetic profiles match more often than the official statistics imply -- and are far from unique, as the FBI has sometimes suggested.

Lawyers seek searches

Now, lawyers around the country are asking for searches of their own state databases.

Several scientists and legal experts as well want to test the accuracy of official statistics using the nearly 6 million profiles in CODIS, the national system that includes most state and local databases.

"DNA is terrific and nobody doubts it, but because it is so powerful, any chinks in its armor ought to be made as salient and clear as possible so jurors will not be overwhelmed by the seeming certainty of it," said David Faigman, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, who specializes in scientific evidence.

FBI officials argue that, under their interpretation of federal law, use of CODIS is limited to criminal justice agencies. In their view, defense attorneys are allowed access to information about their specific cases, not the databases in general.

Bureau officials say critics have exaggerated or misunderstood the implications of Troyer's discoveries.

Indeed, experts generally agree that most -- but not all -- of the Arizona matches were to be expected statistically because of the unusual way Troyer searched for them.

In a typical criminal case, investigators look for matches to a specific profile. But the Arizona search looked for any matches among all the thousands of profiles in the database, greatly increasing the odds of finding them.

As a result, Thomas Callaghan, head of the FBI's CODIS unit, has dismissed Troyer's findings as "misleading" and "meaningless."

He urged authorities in several states to object to Arizona-style searches, advising them to tell courts that the probes could violate the privacy of convicted offenders, tie up crucial databases and even lead the FBI to expel offending states from CODIS -- a penalty that could cripple states' ability to solve crimes.

In one case, Callaghan advised state officials to raise the risk of expulsion with a judge, then told the officials that expulsion was unlikely to happen, according to a record of the conversation filed in court.

In an interview with The Times, Callaghan denied any effort to mislead the court.

The FBI's arguments have persuaded courts in California and other states to block the searches. But in at least two states, judges overruled the objections.

The resulting searches found nearly 1,000 morepairs that matched at nine or more loci.

"I can appreciate why the FBI is worried about this," said David Kaye, an expert on science and the law at Arizona State University and former member of a national committee that studied forensic DNA.

But "people's lives do ride on this evidence," he said. "It has got to be explained."

Concerned about errors

From her first discovery in 2001, Troyer and her colleagues in the Arizona Department of Public Safety's Phoenix DNA lab were intrigued.

At the time, many states looked at only nine or fewer loci when searching for suspects. (States now commonly attempt to compare 13 loci, though often fewer are available from old or contaminated crime scene evidence.)

Based on Troyer's results, she and her colleagues believed that a nine-locus match could point investigators to the wrong person.

"We felt it was interesting and just wanted people to understand it could happen," said Troyer, who initially declined to be interviewed, then cautiously discussed her findings by telephone, with her bosses on the line.

"If you're going to search at nine loci, you need to be aware of what it means," said Todd Griffith, director of the Phoenix lab. "It's not necessarily absolutely the guy."

Troyer made a simple poster for a national conference of DNA analysts. It showed photos of the white man and the younger black man next to their remarkably similar genetic profiles.

Some who saw the poster said they had seen similar matches in their own labs.

But Bruce Budowle, an FBI scientist who specializes in forensic DNA, told colleagues of Troyer that such coincidental matches were to be expected.

Three years later, Bicka Barlow, a San Francisco defense attorney, came across a description of Troyer's poster on the Internet.

Its implications became clear as she prepared to defend a client accused of a 20-year-old rape and murder.

A database search had found a nine-locus match between his DNA profile and semen found in the victim's body. Based on FBI estimates, the prosecutor said the odds of a coincidental match were as remote as 1 in 108 trillion.

Recalling the Arizona discovery, Barlow wondered if there might be similar coincidental matches in California's database -- the world's third-largest, with 360,000 DNA profiles at the time. The attorney called Troyer in Phoenix to learn more.

Troyer seemed eager to talk about her discovery, which still had her puzzled, Barlow recalled. The analyst told Barlow she had searched the growing Arizona database since the conference and found more pairs of profiles matching at nine and even 10 loci.

Encouraged, Barlow subpoenaed a new search of the Arizona database. Among about 65,000 felons, there were 122 pairs that matched at nine of 13 loci. Twenty pairs matched at 10 loci. One matched at 11 and one at 12, though both later proved to belong to relatives.

Barlow was stunned. At the time, such matches were almost unheard of.

That same year, Fred Bieber, a Harvard professor and expert in forensic DNA, testified in an unrelated criminal case that just once had he seen a pair of profiles matching at nine of 13 markers, and they belonged to brothers. He had heard of a 10-locus match between two men, but it was the result of incest -- a man whose father was also his older brother.

Indeed, since 2000, the FBI has treated certain rare DNA profiles as essentially unique -- attributable to a single individual "to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty."

Other crime labs have adopted the policy, and some no longer tell jurors there is even a possibility of a coincidental match.

Soon after Barlow received the results, Callaghan, the head of the FBI's DNA database unit, reprimanded Troyer's lab in Phoenix, saying it should have sought the permission of the FBI before complying with the court's order in the San Francisco case.

Asked later whether Callaghan had threatened her lab, Troyer said in court, "I wouldn't say it's been threatened, but we have been reminded."

Dwight Adams, director of the FBI lab at the time, faxed Griffith, Troyer's boss, a letter saying the Arizona state lab was "under review" for releasing the search results.

"While we understand that the Arizona Department of Public Safety, acting in good faith, complied with a proper judicial court order in the release of the nine-loci search of your offender DNA records, this release of DNA data was not authorized," Adams wrote, asking Arizona to take "appropriate corrective action."

Arizona officials obtained a court order to prevent Barlow from sharing the results with anyone else.

But it was too late. After a judge found the Arizona results to be irrelevant in Barlow's case, the defense attorney e-mailed them to a network of her colleagues and DNA experts around the country.

Soon, defense lawyers in other states were seeking what came to be known as "Arizona searches."

'Don't panic'

For years, DNA's strength in the courtroom has been the brute power of its numbers. It's hard to argue with odds like 1 in 100 billion.

Troyer's discovery threatened to turn the tables on prosecutors. At first blush, the Arizona matches appeared to contradict those statistics and the popular notion that DNA profiles, like DNA, were essentially unique.

Law enforcement experts scrambled to explain.

Three months after the court-ordered search in Arizona, Steven Myers, a senior DNA analyst at the California Department of Justice, gave a presentation to the Assn. of California Crime Lab Analysts. It was titled "Don't Panic" -- a hint at the alarm Troyer's discovery had set off.

Many of the Arizona matches were predictable, Myers said, given the type of search Troyer had conducted.

In a database search for a criminal case, a crime scene sample would have been compared to every profile in the database -- about 65,000 comparisons. But Troyer compared all 65,000 profiles in Arizona's database to each other, resulting in about 2 billion comparisons. Each comparison made it more likely she would find a match.

When this "database effect" was considered, about 100 of the 144 matches Troyer had found were to be expected statistically, Myers found.

Troyer's search also looked for matches at any of 13 genetic locations, while in a real criminal case the analyst would look for a particular profile -- making a match far less likely.

Further, any nonmatching markers would immediately rule out a suspect. In the case of the black and white men who matched at nine loci, the four loci that differed -- if available from crime scene evidence -- would have ensured that the wrong man was not implicated.

The presence of relatives in the database could also account for some of Troyer's findings, the FBI and other experts say. Whether that's the case would require cumbersome research because the databases don't contain identifying information, they say.

Some scientists are not satisfied by any of these explanations. They wonder whether Troyer's findings signal flaws in the complex assumptions that underlie the FBI's rarity estimates.

Behind the estimates

In the 1990s, FBI scientists estimated the rarity of each genetic marker by extrapolating from sample populations of a few hundred people from various ethnic or racial groups. The estimates for each marker are multiplied across all 13 loci to come up with a rarity estimate for the entire profile.

These estimates make assumptions about how populations mate and whether genetic markers are independent of each other. They also don't account for relatives.

Bruce Weir, a statistician at the University of Washington who has studied the issue, said these assumptions should be tested empirically in the national database system.

"Instead of saying we predict there will be a match, let's open it up and look," Weir said.

Some experts predict that given the rapid growth of CODIS, such a search would produce one or more examples of unrelated people who are identical at all 13 loci.

Such a discovery was once unimaginable.

'Dire consequences'

In January 2006, not long after Barlow distributed the results of the court-ordered search in Arizona, the FBI sent out a nationwide alert to crime labs warning of similar defense requests.

Soon after, the bureau's arguments against the searches were being made in courtrooms around the country.

In California, Michael Chamberlain, a state Department of Justice official, persuaded judges that such a search could have "dire consequences" -- violating the privacy of convicted offenders, shutting down the database for days and risking the state's expulsion from the FBI's national DNA system. All this for a search whose results would be irrelevant and misleading to jurors, Chamberlain argued.

When similar arguments were made in an Arizona case, the judge ruled that the search would be "nothing more than an interesting deep sea fishing expedition."

But in Illinois and Maryland, courts ordered the searches to proceed, despite opposition from the FBI and state officials at every turn.

In July 2006, after Chicago-area defense attorneys sought a database search on behalf of a murder suspect, the FBI's Callaghan held a telephone conference with Illinois crime lab officials.

The topic was "how to fight this," according to lab officials' summary of the conversation, which later became part of the court record.

Callaghan suggested they tell the judge that Illinois could be disconnected from the national database system, the summary shows. Callaghan then told the lab officials that "it would in fact be unlikely that IL would be disconnected," according to the summary.

In an interview, Callaghan disputed he said that.

"I didn't say it was unlikely to happen," he said. "I was asked specifically, what's the likelihood here? I said, I don't know, but it takes a lot for a state to be cut off from the national database."

A week later, the judge ordered the search. Lawyers for the lab then took the matter to the Illinois Supreme Court, arguing in part that Illinois could lose its access to the federal DNA database. The high court refused to block the search.

The result: 903 pairs of profiles matching at nine or more loci in a database of about 220,000.

State officials obtained a court order to prevent distribution of the results. The Times obtained them from a scientist who works closely with the FBI.

A 'unilateral decision'

A similar fight occurred in a death penalty case in Maryland during the summer and fall of 2006.

The prosecutor saw a DNA match between a baseball cap dropped at the crime scene and the suspect as so definitive that he didn't plan to tell the jury about the chance of a coincidental match, records show.

Seeking to cast doubt on the evidence, the defense persuaded the judge to order an "Arizona search" of the Maryland database. The state did not comply.

After the defense filed a contempt-of-court motion, Michelle Groves, the state's DNA administrator, argued in court and in an affidavit that, based on conversations with Callaghan at the FBI, she believed the request was burdensome and possibly illegal.

According to Groves, Callaghan had told her that complying with the court order could lead Maryland to be disconnected from CODIS -- a result Groves' lawyer said would be "catastrophic."

Groves' affidavit was edited by FBI officials and the technology contractor that designed CODIS, court records show. Before submitting the affidavit, Groves wrote the group an e-mail saying, "Let's see if this will work," court records show.

It didn't. After the judge, Steven Platt, rejected her arguments, Groves returned to court, saying the search was too risky. FBI officials had now warned her that it could corrupt the entire state database, something they would not help fix, she told the court.

Platt reaffirmed his earlier order, decrying Callaghan's "unilateral" decision to block the search.

"The court will not accept the notion that the extent of a person's due process rights hinges solely on whether some employee of the FBI chooses to authorize the use of the [database] software," Platt wrote.

The search went ahead in January 2007. The system did not go down, nor was Maryland expelled from the national database system.

In a database of fewer than 30,000 profiles, 32 pairs matched at nine or more loci. Three of those pairs were "perfect" matches, identical at 13 out of 13 loci.

Experts say they most likely are duplicates or belong to identical twins or brothers. It's also possible that one of the matches is between unrelated people -- defying odds as remote as 1 in 1 quadrillion.

Maryland officials never did the research to find out.

VT - Tougher laws, safer kids?

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Ask yourself this question. Out of all the states who have passed Jessica's law, has it prevents anymore children from being sexually abused or killed?


By SUSAN ALLEN Times Argus Editor

Jessica Marie Lunsford died in 2005 at age 9. She had been kidnapped from her home in Homosassa, Fla., raped by repeat sexual offender John Couey, then buried alive.
- And John Couey begged and begged and begged for treatment. He did not get it. Why? If he would have, Jessica would still be here today!

The case horrified the nation and prompted Florida lawmakers to immediately pass what is now known as Jessica's Law, sparking a movement to toughen laws against sex offenders that in the three years since her death has led 33 states to pass some form of the statute.

Even states like Vermont that have balked at passing sweeping changes, such as Jessica's Law, have tightened their sex offender statutes in some form since the Lunsford case.

Recently, in the wake of the disappearance and murder of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett of Braintree, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (Contact) launched a public discussion of the issue here by calling for a special session of the Legislature to pass Jessica's Law for Vermont, among other tougher restrictions.

Bennett's body was found July 2 by members of the Vermont State Police in a shallow grave on the Randolph Center property of her uncle, convicted sex offender Michael Jacques. Jacques has been arrested on federal kidnapping charges and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Dubie, who is pushing a comprehensive review of Vermont's criminal justice system, said on Friday: "My main thrust is giving states attorneys additional tools and also sending a message to society that if you sexually assault a child, it's a severe crime and you should pay a price for that severe crime."

A look at Jessica's Law

Under Jessica's Law, those convicted of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under age 12 would serve a minimum sentence of 25 years in jail and wear global positioning devices upon release to allow corrections officials to monitor their whereabouts at all times.

In addition, Florida, which enacted Jessica's Law in 2005, elevated the rape of a child under 12 to a capital felony, ensuring it was punishable by death or life in prison without the chance of parole. Recently the Supreme Court ruled in a Louisiana case that sentencing someone to death for child rape is unconstitutional if the victim was not killed.

Variations of Jessica's Law have been passed in 33 states, according to the Jessica Marie Lunsford Foundation, a nonprofit organization started by Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford, to expand the implementation of the statute nationwide. Those laws include community notification acts (Alabama), child protection acts (West Virginia), and 25-year minimums reflective of the Florida statute.

On Thursday, the North Carolina Legislature passed Jessica's Law on a vote of 49-0 in the Senate and 109-1 in the House, sending the bill to Gov. Mike Easley (Contact) for his signature. Jessica Lunsford had been a resident of North Carolina before moving to Florida a year before her murder.

Lawmakers, politicians, advocates, parents and even conservative talk show hosts have publicly argued about the need and appropriateness of implementing Jessica's Law in Vermont.

Controversial Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly has made passage of Jessica's Law a personal crusade, launching a national campaign to pressure governors in states without such a statute – including Vermont – to approve the measure.

"There is simply no question that Jessica's Law will save lives, and similar laws need to be instituted in every state," O'Reilly tells viewers on his Web page. He continues, "This is literally a life-and-death battle to save our youngest and most vulnerable citizens from abuse, torture, and murder."
- Well, that shows how ignorant "The Spin Doctor" is. These laws will not prevent another sexual abuse or another child from being killed. 90% or more of sex crimes are committed by someone NOT on a registry, so therefore, it will not prevent anything. It's common sense!

Many victims' advocates disagree, worrying that passage of lengthy mandatory minimums will reduce the number of cases that are plea-bargained into a jail term, discourage victims from facing traumatizing jury trials and ultimately backfire, leading to fewer convictions of sex offenders.
- Yeah, what kid would want to tell on mommy, daddy or uncle Joe if they know they will be sentencing him to life in prison or death? Plea bargains are a joke, and are used all the time. The usually use them when they do not have evidence, so they try to persuade you to take a deal so that can convict you. Never take a plea deal, IMO, it's not a deal, and they use it to scare the hell out of people so they do take the deals. Then they can move on to their next victim.

"My main concern is that it offers us a false sense of security where sexual offenders are concerned," said Karen Tronsgard-Scott, director of the Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Jessica's Law is aimed at incarcerating the "worst of the worst" offenders, Tronsgard-Scott said, when in fact most child predators are known by the victim and might even be a family member.
- And this is a problem. They are now starting to put offenders into tier levels (I, II or III), and they do not judge a person based on their history or likelihood they will reoffend, but they base it solely on the crime committed, so therefore, it is diluting the registry. Many who are now a tier I are being moved into tier III simply due to the crime, when they are not a threat to anybody. So it makes it look worse than it is, and doesn't properly help people determine who is actually a threat on the registry. But, FEAR IS A GREAT MOTIVATOR, AND SELLS PRODUCTS!!!

Robert Hofmann, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Corrections, said it's impossible to accurately estimate the impact Jessica's Law or other mandatory minimum sentences would have on the prison system – or the cost to taxpayers. He said his department will begin studying the issue, however, in preparation for expected debate over the proposal.

Hofmann said about 450 inmates out of the state's 2,060 total prison population are in for sex offenses, everything from flashing to more severe and violent crimes.
- Out of those 450, how many of these, being fairly evaluated, are truly a risk to society? Probably less than 50 or so.

"Most of our attention and anguish and concern has been with the offenders that go to prison, are unrepentant, deny it outright, or say, 'There's nothing wrong with me raping that person,'" Hofmann said. "They don't take treatment and then have a much more substantial risk of re-offense. Those are the ones we anguish over the most."
- Not from what the news has been saying. The media and politicians, who are NOT listening to the experts, are heightening the fear factor, so now everyone is a threat, regardless of what they did.

While it would appear that imposing Jessica's Law would automatically cost the state money — after all, it's designed to keep more offenders in jail for longer periods of time — Hofmann said it's not that simple. Various factors – including whether fewer victims press charges, or the mandatory minimums act as a deterrent – will impact the outcome. Those are the factors his department will consider in trying to determine the cost and impact of mandatory minimum sentencing.

Any changes to the system would be incremental because sex offenders are already serving longer terms under newly passed changes to Vermont's sex offender laws.

"There's been an increase in people who are convicted getting jail time," he said. "That's part of what the strategy for policymakers has been, using prison beds for most violent offenders."
- And that is how it should be. The truly violent should be in prison, but someone of some small drug charge or some other small crime should not be. The prisons are over-flowing... Why do you think prison violence is so high? When you have tons of people in the same living quarters, there will be issues. The gangs run the prisons, and when the gang members come out, they are more of a threat. People do not get the treatment they need in prison, so they just sit there for years, dwelling on things, anger building... When they get out, watch out!

Changes follow horrific crimes

It's not unusual for significant statutory change to follow harrowing crimes. Although variations of the law had been implemented by individual states earlier, Megan's Law was officially created in 1994 in the wake of the kidnap, rape and murder of 7-year-old Megan Nicole Kanka of New Jersey. The measure requires public notification of the whereabouts of certain sex offenders.

Charles Onley, a research associate with the Maryland-based Center for Sex Offender Management, said the Lunsford killing, along with several other high-profile child murders around the same time, sparked an explosion of changes to state laws and local ordinances across the country.
- And they are treating all sex offenders as if they murdered these children, that is a major problem. How would you like to be compared to Charles Manson or some other person simply because you have a criminal record for a similar crime?

"I've been here 10 years," Onley said. He said he would typically get about 15 inquiries a week from states eyeing changes in sex offender laws. The week after Jessica Lunsford's death, he got about 300.

"Florida already had tough legislation. They already had 1,000-foot residency restrictions, which many states didn't have at the time. They had sex offenders already fully on the Web sites, and at that time not every state had a Web site," he noted. "So, when this happened, their Legislature met and they put money into the GPS (to monitor) all child sex offenders, they toughened their laws to give more time to sex offenders for child abuse cases, and then many of their cities began to increase their distance for residency restrictions."

Since that time, Onley said other states have scrambled to match Florida's tough statutes or even outdo the Sunshine State.
- And this is another problem. Everyone is trying to outdo each other, thus turning this into a shuffle game at the sex offenders expense. They are legal one day, then the next, they have to move because the buffer zone has increased. Nobody wants them in their neighborhood, so they make huge buffers to push them into someone elses jurisdiction. Then the cycle repeats.

"Some of the governors are proposing tougher reactions to sex offenders and novel ways to get the one-up on everybody," he added. "Then the towns are trying to outdo each other."
- So everyone is competing against each other. States against states, and counties against counties. Total madness!

If one town has a ban on convicted sex offenders living within 1,000 feet of a school or playground (a proposal being considered in Barre and Rutland), another town will pass a 2,500-foot residency restriction, he said. Some towns have passed loitering ordinances against convicted sex offenders. Alabama holds sex offenders in jail past their release date unless a suitable housing situation is found for that person, Onley said.

Unfortunately, he said, "The tougher you get, then more of these individuals tend to go underground."
- And like Abraham Lincoln once said: "The best way to get a bad law repealed, is to enforce it strictly!"

Other ideas under discussion

Onley said Megan's Law and other sex registry ordinances have been helpful in enabling communities and law enforcement to keep track of offenders living in an area. Too many additional restrictions, such as residential bans, drive those offenders into hiding and make supervision that much more difficult, he said.
- And that is exactly what is occurring. People are vanishing, which puts more people in potential danger. When you push someone so much, eventually they will not take it anymore, thus what you see is occurring now. Remember the old Civil Rights movements? Well, this is becoming the same!

Restrictions, including mandatory minimum sentences, also make the job tougher for state corrections officials.

"The tougher laws make it hard for correctional folks to implement a strategy to successfully reintegrate the sex offenders into communities," said Onley, who disagrees with those arguing these offenders cannot be safely reintegrated.

"For 26 years I was in corrections, and I would have said there's no hope for these guys. I've seen these guys con and do all sorts of things," he noted. "But many of these offenders don't want to offend again. They want accountability, opportunities and support in the community. And many worry that without supports, they might re-offend."
- When you treat people like animals, they will act like animals, eventually. The more laws you pass, the more stress it puts on their lives, eventually people will snap, and who knows what will occur then. It's kind of like the school kids who are bullied all the time, they eventually get sick and tired of it, then snap, and go on a shooting spree. And I am not suggesting anybody do this, but showing what could occur.

He said sex offenders are living in our communities; that's an inescapable reality. Driving them into hiding would be a bad outcome of legal changes.

"Do you want to know where they are? I feel safer knowing where he is if I've got a choice. I would do things to keep my family safe in the first place," Onley said. "I'm a conservative guy, but I just think communities are at greater risk with these harsher penalties."

Tronsgard-Scott was also leery of significantly tougher sentencing, and said the focus should instead by on educating adults about the dangers facing children.

"Laws are designed to go into play after an act has been committed," she said. "But what I would love our conversation in Vermont to be about as a result of this horrendous act is how do we prevent this first act from happening?"

She said that as a child, it was not uncommon for kids to be aware of the "funny guy in the neighborhood" and for parents to say, "Don't go near him or her."

"But there were no consequences, nobody would ever consider having that person arrested, there was no place to report them. So this is kind of new in our society," she said.

That means educating ourselves as adults about issues such as who sex offenders typically are (90 percent of the time the child knows the offender) and how we can keep our children safer from predators.

"We have got to educate ourselves about what sex offenders look like, confront them in a way that will help them get into treatment," said Tronsgard-Scott. "Everyone in society has an important role to play in preventing sexual abuse."