Monday, April 12, 2010

CA - Experts issue cautions on Chelsea's Law provisions

Original Article

As in the typical knee-jerk reaction, they quickly add more punishment to all sex offenders. And the man who has been charged with the crime, has not even been found guilty yet!


By John Wilkens

Provisions of Chelsea's Law unveiled in the state Capitol today might not be the best approach for how to rein in sex offenders, two experts said.

Jill Levenson (Email), a human services professor at Lynn University in Florida who analyzes sex-crime policy, wondered about the timing of the measure, noting that the state Sex Offender Management Board is currently studying sex offender policy and will be forwarding recommendations to improve the system.

When these kinds of crimes happen they are tragic and scary and it’s not surprising that people want to find ways to prevent them from happening again,” she said. “But maybe before passing laws there should be a thoughtful analysis of what happened, a careful autopsy of what went wrong. We need to understand how to provide better case management instead of trying to come up with another one-size-fits-all law.”

She said some of the measure’s features — GPS tracking, mandatory-minimum sentences, parole for life — “aren’t necessary for everybody and they do become very costly.”

The offender board was tapped by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Contact) to review state handling of the 2000 molestation case of convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner III. He now stands accused of raping and killing Chelsea King, 17, of Poway, for whom the Chelsea's Law proposal is named.
- He's accused, but has not been found guilty yet, and yet everyone is assuming he did do the crime and have already condemned the man.  Why don't you wait until after the sentencing before acting in the typical knee-jerk reaction.  He may be guilty, but he may also be innocent, and stop naming laws after dead people!

Marc Renzema, a criminal justice professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and an expert on GPS tracking, was also cautionary.

I’m all for extended supervision, but not necessarily GPS for life,” he said. “We don’t have a clue just yet about the psychological impact or even the deterrent impact of ‘forever’ monitoring.”

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

CA - Sex-offender opponents cite safety fears, cancel protest

Original Article

Feared for their safety? Why? Because they are a bunch of motorcycle priests? Come on! God bless this pastor for sticking to the word of God.



BUENA PARK – Leaders of a planned protest outside a Buena Park church that runs a group-home program for convicted sex offenders canceled the protest Sunday, saying they feared for their safety.

But, they said, they will keep up pressure on governmental officials to close the homes, located in a quiet Anaheim neighborhood with lots of children.

The church's pastor, The Rev. Jose Mata, spoke to a reporter outside the church Sunday, saying he is aware of the neighbors' concerns, but he believes in his church's mission and won't move or close the homes.

Neighbors learned last month that the church, Holy Ground Christian Fellowship, was renting two Anaheim homes within blocks of each other and running them as group homes for 11 sex offenders – six in one home, five in the other.
- Please visit this Christian Fellowship web site, and send them an email.  They are looking for ways to help spread the word that not all ex-sex offenders are dangerous.  Also see the comments to this blog post below.

That outraged many neighbors who said it has created suspicion and fear, prompting some parents to keep their children indoors.

Community leaders announced last week that they would picket the church on the 7600 block of Ninth Street in Buena Park on Sunday. But protest leader Linda Liptrap-Gutierrez – whose home backs up to one of the Anaheim group homes – drove by the church Saturday, then decided to call off the protest.

"There was a lot of tagging on structures, it appeared gang-infested and I didn't want our neighbors to feel unsafe," she said.

The church, near Beach Boulevard, is in a commercial suite next to apartments. The group homes are about 10 miles away from the church.

Betsy Mata, Jose's wife and the director of the group-home program, agreed that it is a "rough neighborhood" and said it was wise of the protesters to stay away.

"We serve this neighborhood. We've had to break up fights (outside) before," Betsy Mata said. "And if people came in with protest signs, I couldn't predict what might happen."

Jose Mata said the church, which caters to outsiders seeking to turn around their lives through Christianity, was founded eight years ago and has 60 members. They started the mission to rehabilitate sex offenders 2 1/2 years ago.

Six convicted sex offenders are living in a house on the 1700 block of North Rutherford Street; five more offenders are living at a home on the 1700 block of North Meadowlark Lane.

The group-home residents also are required to attend Sunday services at the church. None wanted to speak to a reporter, Jose Mata said.

He and his wife knew they were tackling a "taboo issue in society." But the sex offenders are screened and closely monitored, he said.

"I am a father myself. I get why neighbors have concerns," said Mata, 57, whose son is 33. "I would have these people living with me, if I could, but there are tough restrictions on where they can live – and these homes are some of the few places where they can live."

Group homes for sex offenders cannot be close to schools or parks.

"I believe these are men committed to turning their lives around through Christ," Mata said. "Some people will tell you the only way they will change is with a bullet through their head. We don't believe that. They made mistakes. And with love and compassion, they can change."

Liptrap-Gutierrez said she understands the social issue and she, too, is a Christian. "This is not a battle of who is more Christian, it is about right and wrong," she said. "I realize these men need help, but it is not right for them to be living in our neighborhood, putting the burden on us."
- Yes, it is about right and wrong.  And being a Christian, or God fearing person, is part of that.

Community leaders met with state Sen. Lou Correa (Contact), D – Santa Ana, on Friday to air their concerns. They plan to petition the Anaheim City Council for help Tuesday.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

OH - Sex offender 'hotel' raises concerns in Akron

Original Article

They cluster because of the laws being passed. When is the media going to investigate why offenders cluster instead of more fear-mongering?


By Ron Regan

AKRON - It's one of the largest concentrations of sex offenders in Ohio. A Five On Your Side Investigaton exposes where even child molestors can be housed on a street loaded with children.

The neighborhood is located near Delia Avenue and West Exchange Street, just west of downtown Akron.

Concerned neighbors have complained their mailboxes are being stuffed with sex offender notifications. Those notifications are required by law and sent by the Summit County Sheriff's Department when rapists and child molestors move into a neighborhood.
- It's not just rapists and child molesters, like you are leading everyone to believe, it's all sex offenders.

The neighborhood is not far from two elementary schools and children can easily be spotted playing outside on lawns and sidewalks.

"For the children, that's what I'm worried about," said one resident. "There's a bunch of them go to school. A bunch on this street. I don't like it. That's too close."

Our investigation found a total of 19 sex offenders living within just a few blocks of the area.

Another resident who saw the list of sex offenders called it "horrifying."

"I think its very sickening that our community has to suffer this way," she said.

Efforts to speak with sex offenders were met with resistence.

"I've got enough problems, I don't need--if you know what I mean," said one sex offender who declined to talk.

Rev. Eric Kirksey lives behind one home that houses nine registered sex offenders, including six tier 3 offenders.

"They're all risks, as far as I'm concerned," said Kirksey, who reached for a sex offender notification card he just received this week.
- Wow, spoken from a true hypocrite pretending to be a religious person.

Tier 3 offenders include those convicted of rape and sexual battery.

Neighbors on Delia Avenue call it a "sex offender hotel." It's called "The Exit Program" and is operated by a Columbus based non-profit that's helped more than 50 sex offenders transition from prison to neighborhoods.

Michelle Johnson is the program's executive director and said it helps keep offenders off the street and placed in a monitored facility.

One man who lives in the home said "for the most part, they are just a bunch of decent guys."

It's a program that has received plenty of support, including letters to program officials from Akron's Chief of Police who wrote it "helps promote safe neighborhoods."

Another letter from the Summit County Sheriff's Department said the program "helps offenders to more likey succeed and not re-offend."

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction also wrote a letter supporting the program calling it "an exceptional program."

Corrections officials report that taxpayers spent $262,000 last year on the program in Akron and Columbus.

In Ohio, there are no laws barring multiple sex offenders from living in one home or neighborhood.

But concern among neighbors has reached Ward 4 Councilman Russel Neal who said he was unaware of the facility until resident contacted him.

"There are a lot of children in the neighborhood", said Neal. "If they're concerned, I'm concerned"
- Yeah, you are a councilman, who wants to exploit the issue to look good to the people.  There are kids everywhere, and the offenders have to live somewhere.

Neal said he plans to call a series of neighborhood meetings to educate the community.
- Yeah, to incite fear so he can help further his own reputation and career maybe!

Video Link

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

NJ - Ex-NJ Lawmaker (Neil Cohen) Pleads Guilty In Child Porn Case

Original Article


A former New Jersey lawmaker who championed legislation fighting child pornography pleaded guilty Monday to distributing nude images of underage girls.

Neil Cohen, 59, acknowledged viewing and printing images meant for sexual gratification from a computer in his former legislative office. He left at least one image at a receptionist's desk, leading to the investigation and charges.

Cohen pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child by distributing child pornography and could be sent to state prison for five years when he is sentenced on July 12.

Under terms of a plea agreement, Cohen will have to register as a sex offender under Megan's law and be subject to lifetime supervision by the Parole Board when he is released from prison. He agreed never to seek public office again and to pay at least $1,800 in fines. His use of social networking Web sites also will be restricted.

Cohen, an attorney who now lives in Paramus, likely will be disbarred.

Cohen and his lawyers left court without commenting. Prosecutors also declined to comment.

Looking gaunt and sporting a full beard, Cohen answered the judge's questions succinctly in a low, barely audible voice.

"That's correct, sir," Cohen said when asked if he intended to plead guilty.

Cohen acknowledged being on medications but told the judge the drugs did not impair his judgment.

In exchange for the guilty plea, other charges against the former assemblyman were dropped. Cohen faced up to 30 years in prison if convicted of official misconduct and child pornography charges.

"Mr. Cohen, through his actions in viewing and distributing child pornography, linked himself to an abhorrent industry that preys on children," Attorney General Paula Dow said in a statement. "Every single person who willingly enters the criminal network of suppliers and users of child pornography becomes part of the tragic exploitation and abuse of the innocent victims."

Cohen was accused of using state computers in his Union County legislative office to view, print and duplicate images of underage girls. The staff member who discovered the photos told the two lawmakers who shared the office with Cohen, Sen. Ray Lesniak and Assemblyman Joe Cryan. They reported Cohen to state authorities in July 2008.

A week later, Cohen resigned, ending a 17-year career in the Legislature. He then checked himself into a psychiatric hospital.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

Erogenous Zoned - Sending sex offenders into exile

Original Article


By Kerry Howley

"Paranoia," University of Maryland Professor C. Fred Alford, has said, "is the will to meaning." In the U.S. of late, paranoia has become the will to zoning. Pick a vice—guns, drugs, smokes, fast food—and you will find zoners pushing it to the fringes of any place children may congregate, mapping large and often redundant circles with schools, parks, and playgrounds at their whitewashed centers. The urge to zone has long been confined to things people do, its target activities thought best confined to the fringes of a decent society. But the increasing popularity of criminal registries has spawned a trend of zoning out people themselves.

Sex offenders are the ultimate fish-in-a-barrel political target. Absent any apparent upswing in crime, pervert bashing seems to be in vogue. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has signed 14 anti-sex offender bills this month. (''Is there anything left we can do to sex offenders with a few days left in the session?'' a state rep joked to reporters.) In Virginia, a new law requires every college and university to send applicants' personal information to state police, where it will be checked against sex offender registries. Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich is campaigning on a new sex offender hotline. Indiana, Colorado, and South Dakota have new laws, to name just a very few among the many states on the anti-offender high this summer.

For the moment, boilerplate sex offender legislation includes residency zoning, laws that typically require registered offenders not live within 1,000, 2,000, or 2,500 feet of day care centers, schools, bus stops, or other randomly chosen but suitably Mayberry-evoking public gathering places. To the extent that there is a theory at work here, it appears to be that men and women who have committed sex crimes will re-offend if permitted to spend their nights within 2,000 feet of public places where children gather during the day.

It would take an impressive zone indeed to actually separate children from sex offenders—the kind of zone that keeps out the parents, grandparents, priests, friends, and acquaintances who commit (by conservative estimates) 80 to 90 percent of those crimes. Zoning schemes, according to Sarah Tontochi at the Atlanta-based Center for Human Rights, are based on the "stranger danger myth," which Tontochi feels actively does harm by underemphasizing the very real danger of abuse-by-acquaintance.

In any case, the restrictions are likely to destroy the integrity of existing registries. Reasonable people can disagree about whether marking public personal information on ex-cons is a good idea, but zones make the costs of registering stratospheric as compared to the cost of not registering at all. As law enforcement officials in Iowa, the first state to impose residency restrictions, have come to realize, the requirements send offenders underground.

Couple the enormously elastic definition of sex offender, which tends to swallow the inane and victimless along with the truly heinous, with the blunt tool of residency zoning, and you're bound to hurt a lot of people whose crimes are hardly worthy of the name. One such case is Wendy Whitaker, who performed oral sex on a 15 year old boy 10 years ago, when she was 17. Whitaker owns a home near a church daycare center in Georgia; police forced her to leave that home last year. She then moved in with her brother, whose niece will go to school next fall. Since a school bus will pick up her niece from the house, Whitaker will again be in violation of the law if a new bus stop zoning law passes. According to the Southern Center for Human Rights, which is fighting the Georgia legislation, thousands of people will be forced to move if the law takes effect. Twenty-five of those are in nursing homes.

New public places emerge all the time, and zoning laws leave it to the highly sexed psychic powers of offenders to choose a home where authorities will not plop a public park, school, or day care center. Entire towns are easily covered, forcing offenders to move locales. But once one town adopts an ordinance, pushing sex offenders to neighboring towns, the tendency is for those towns to do so as well, provoking an arms race of circle drawing as offenders bounce from city to city. It is exile by attrition.

As with flag burning, the appeal of such legislation flows from politician to populace, its highest purpose being to smoke out politicians who oppose it. The problem with zoning proposals is that, unlike recent Republican values grandstanding in D.C., they tend to pass.

In a larger sense, recent national debates about redistricting should give the non-registered pause. It is possible to collect vast amounts of personal information about residents of any locality, to aggregate and act upon any number of data sets voters unknowingly provide. The high art of gerrymandering reminds us that it's not just sex offenders who are living highly mapped lives; let he who is without vice build the first zone. If the country really is suffering a bout of paranoia over hypothetical strangers, the sentiment would be better directed at politicking neighbors.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

PBS - The Plea - A MUST WATCH!

Click the link above to see the videos from this show, and the others below!

If you are innocent or not, NEVER ACCEPT A PLEA DEAL!


It is the centerpiece of America's judicial process: the right to a trial by jury system that places a defendant's fate in the hands of a jury of one's peers. But it may surprise many to learn that nearly 95 percent of all cases resulting in felony convictions never reach a jury. Instead, they are settled through plea bargains in which a defendant agrees to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence.

"The real American justice system is unlike anything depicted on Law & Order and Court TV," says producer Ofra Bikel. "I know I was stunned when I realized that only about 5 percent of all felony convictions result from jury trials. The rest are settled by plea bargains. And these deals aren't always to the defendant's advantage."

"The Plea" tells several stories -- different people, different charges, different parts of the country, all with one thing in common: the difficult dilemma of confronting a plea. The program also interviews experts on the criminal justice system.

"The Plea" is Ofra Bikel's latest investigation into America's criminal justice system. Her previous reports include "The Burden of Innocence," "Requiem for Frank Lee Smith," "An Ordinary Crime," "The Case for Innocence," "Snitch," and the trilogy of programs entitled "Innocence Lost".

When Charles Gampero, Jr. was arrested and charged with murder in the second degree in 1994, the 20-year-old insisted he was innocent. While admitting to having hit the victim while trying to break up a fight outside a bowling alley on the night in question, Gampero said the victim was very much alive when he left him.

Given numerous unanswered questions in the case -- including statements by the victim's family, who said the man had been the target of harassment and vandalism by unknown parties in the weeks before his death -- Gampero was convinced that a jury would believe his story and acquit him of the charges.

But a jury would never hear his case. After jury selection had begun, Gampero and his family say the judge pressured the young man to accept a plea bargain that would send him to prison for seven to 21 years.

"[The judge] told me point blank—he said, 'I will give your son 25 to life, so you better take the plea, or if you don't take the plea, he's getting it,'" says Charles Gampero, Sr., whose son is now entering his ninth year in prison. "We took the plea agreement thinking that the judge knew what he was talking about and my son would be home by the time he's 27," Gampero Sr. says. "It didn't work out."

To overworked and understaffed defense lawyers, prosecutors, and jurists, plea bargains are the safety valve that keeps cases moving through our backlogged courts.

"The system would collapse if every case that was filed in the criminal justice system were to be set for trial," says Judge Caprice Cosper of the Harris County Criminal Court in Houston, Texas. "The system would just entirely collapse."

Critics, however, contend that the push to resolve cases through plea bargains jeopardizes the constitutional rights of defendants, who may be pressured to admit their guilt whether they are guilty or not. In Erma Faye Stewart's case, for example, she says her defense attorney encouraged her to accept a plea bargain when she was arrested in a major drug sweep based upon information provided by a police informant who was later deemed not credible. The 30-year-old mother of two steadfastly maintained her innocence, but says her court-appointed defense attorney didn't want to hear it.

"He was, like, pushing me to [plead guilty and] take the probation -- he wasn't on my side at all," says Stewart, who tells FRONTLINE that after spending 25 nights in a crowded jail cell, she decided to follow her attorney's advice. "Even though I wasn't guilty, I was willing to plead guilty because I had to go home to my kids. My son was sick."

After accepting the plea bargain and 10 years' probation, Stewart was freed. What she didn't know was that under the terms of her probation, she would be required to pay a monthly fee to her probation officer. Her felony conviction also meant that the single mother was banned from the federal food stamps program. Within three years of pleading guilty to a crime she says she didn't commit, Erma Faye Stewart had fallen behind in her probation payments and been evicted from her home.

"One reason that a lot of people plead guilty is because they're told they can go home that day, because they will get probation," says Steve Bright, a defense attorney and law professor who serves as director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. "What they usually don't take into account is that they are being set up to fail."

Other defendants in "The Plea" describe being pressured by prosecutors and judges into accepting plea bargains that resulted in them spending years behind bars for crimes they say they didn't commit. Those who refuse to cut a deal, insiders say, are often rewarded with extra-harsh prison sentences as a lesson to future defendants.

A case in point: Patsy Kelly Jarrett. In 1973, the 23-year-old North Carolina resident drove to New York with a friend for a summer-long vacation. It was only when the police showed up at her door three years later, Jarrett says, that she learned that sometime during their New York stay, her friend had robbed a gas station and murdered the attendant.

While the evidence against Jarrett's friend was concrete, the only evidence against Jarrett was the statement of an elderly witness who said he saw a car at the time of the crime with someone inside. The man did not know, however, whether the person was a man or a woman.

To avoid a trial, prosecutors offered Jarrett a plea bargain: If she would plead guilty to the robbery, they would drop the murder charge and give her a five- to 15-year prison sentence.

"I told my attorney, 'I can't, I can't do this,'" Jarrett tells FRONTLINE. "And he said, 'Well, my hands are tied. We want to drop the murder charge on you if you'll plead guilty to the robbery.' And I said, 'But I haven't robbed anybody.'"

Convinced that the jury would believe her, Jarrett refused the plea bargain and took her chances with a trial. She was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.

"I believed in the American system of justice," Jarrett says from the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, where she has spent the past 27 years of her life. "I really believed that, you know, just tell the truth and the judge and jury will hear you and nothing will happen to you. But I was wrong…."

Twelve years into her prison sentence, Jarrett's case was reversed after the prison warden became convinced of her innocence and asked a new defense attorney to take up her case. The state decided to appeal the reversal, but first offered Jarrett another plea bargain: If she would admit to committing the crimes with which she was charged, she would be sentenced to time served and released.

In "The Plea," Jarrett's lawyers describe how they urged her repeatedly to take the plea bargain. She refused. The state won its appeal, and Jarrett's 25 years to life sentence was reinstated.

"It's just morally wrong to say you did something you know in your heart you didn't do," says Jarrett, who will not be eligible for parole until 2005. "I might have walked free physically, but in my spirit and in my soul, I would have had to have lived with that the rest of my life. And I couldn't live with me like that. I can live with me better in here."

Update: In the spring of 2005 Kelly Jarrett had her first parole hearing and was granted parole. She will be released June 13, 2005.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin