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DeniseJJ 06-25-2004 09:06 AM

Tracking Sex Offenders in Alabama

Police say hundreds are not registered

First of two parts By STEPHEN SISK

In just one more day, Victoria Monette would have been able to tear into wrapped boxes and blow out candles. But there were no happy birthday wishes for her.

On Nov. 17, 2003, family members discovered the 2-year-old lying on the bathroom floor of her mother's Chalkville apartment, badly scalded and beaten, authorities said.

The toddler died five days later — one day short of her third birthday — when she was taken off life support at Children's Hospital.

Michael Kevin Myers, Tori's mother's boyfriend, is awaiting trial, accused of murder in the child's death. Prosecutors say Myers, a convicted sex offender who had moved to Alabama from Arizona, was taking care of Tori on the day her injuries occurred.

He also is charged, as a convicted sex offender, with establishing a residence in Alabama where a minor resided.

Myers has a pretrial hearing scheduled in Jefferson County Circuit Court on July 9.

Myers' court-appointed attorney, Bill Dawson, said it was too early to discuss details of the case but said Myers will plead not guilty.

Statewide in 2003, nearly one in 10 of Alabama's convicted sex offenders slipped under the radar of authorities, according to officials with the Alabama Department of Public Safety. The department did not have current addresses on 405 of the almost 4,800 sex offenders registered in the state.

Figures from the Alabama Department of Public Safety show the agency does not have addresses on 265 of Alabama's more than 3,500 sex offenders as required by a 1996 law.

Of the remaining 1,300 offenders — those whose convictions did not fall under the 1996 notification act but who are still required to register — Public Safety does not have addresses on about 140.

Alabama's sexual offenders registration falls under two statutes, one passed in 1967 and another in 1996.

The 1996 law — the Alabama Community Notification Act — requires individuals convicted of some sex crimes to register with local law enforcement. The law's main purpose, however, was to require law enforcement agencies, once they received the residence information from offenders, to in turn notify neighbors within 1,000 to 2,000 feet of the offender's residence and schools and child care centers within 3 miles.

Also, a 1967 state law requires sexual offenders convicted of certain crimes to register with law enforcement. There was no community notification at the time. Sexual offenders who fall under the 1967 law and who have committed no new offenses would still have to register. But police are not required to inform nearby residents of their presence, as required by the 1996 law.

The problem, said police and others, is understaffed law enforcement agencies and a constantly growing list of offenders and offenders who don't want to be found.

State Sen. Steve French, R-Mountain Brook, said he was disturbed to hear Alabama had lost track of hundreds of sex offenders.

"We've done a poor job in those cases," French said. "We've probably done worse than that because we've given the public a false impression that we're monitoring it."

French sponsored a bill in the last legislative session that sought to strengthen the notification law. The bill was not enacted into law.

Alabama Deputy Solicitor General Scott Rouse, who works in the state attorney general's office in Montgomery, said the system set up to track sex offenders works as a whole, but with the behavior pattern of some offenders and the numerous different circumstances surrounding their convictions, agencies to achieve 100 percent enforcement.

"That ... percent is a relatively small number, but it does represent a large number of sex offenders who we need to know where they are and what they're doing," Rouse said. "That may represent the segment of sex offenders that are the belligerent ones."

That type of sex offender is the most problematic for law enforcement, Rouse said. It's often difficult to get information from these offenders.

Sex offenders, Rouse said, often do not follow traditional residency or employment patterns.

"They may live one place today and they're gone someplace else tomorrow," Rouse said. "A lot of sex offenders try to follow the law and are conscientious about telling law enforcement they're going to move as they are supposed to under the statute. And then you have some who are problematic and are always trying to move away."

One victims' rights advocate said the problem is that within law enforcement agencies, sex offenders are not a pressing issue.

"If the Department of Public Safety had 405 that did not report to them, this information should be reported to (law enforcement) and let them see where they are," said Miriam Shehane, director of Victims of Crime and Leniency, based in Montgomery.

Shehane said she thinks when law enforcement officials don't have the resources to do a job they take the position that someone else will have to do it.

"It seems that everybody just points the finger at everybody else. We should all work together on this. Nobody seems to be working together," she said.

According to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, as of Tuesday 438 sex offenders who are required to notify their neighbors under the community notification law were living in Jefferson County.

That number does not include offenders with youthful offender status, out-of-state offenders awaiting judicial hearings, or offenders released from prison before the notification law was passed in 1996.

Alabama's 1996 law, written by former state Sen. Bill Armistead, had its origin from a similar measure passed by the New Jersey Legislature nearly two years earlier.

The New Jersey law arose after a public outcry that followed the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl in 1994.

In that case in Hamilton Township, N.J., Jesse Timmendequas led authorities to 7-year-old Megan Kanka's brutally raped, beaten and strangled body, located in a park less than a mile from her home.

It was only after the crime that Hamilton residents learned the truth: Timmendequas already was a twice-convicted sex offender.

Residents statewide called for the state to do something. Parents said they had the right to know when a convicted sex offender moves into their neighborhood.

New Jersey state Sen. Dick Zimmer sponsored bills requiring that sex offenders undergo a risk evaluation after release. Offenders who had committed certain sex crimes were required to notify their neighbors when they moved into a neighborhood. Both bills passed.

The law became known as Megan's Law.

Almost 1,000 miles away, Armistead had been following the actions of the New Jersey Legislature and vowed something needed to be done in Alabama as well.

"I had seen many instances of this kind of abuse in the paper and once I read what had happened with Megan Kanka in New Jersey, and what the lawmakers had done there, I realized that was something we had to do here in Alabama," Armistead said.

He consulted with legal and child care experts to draft Alabama's version of Megan's Law.

"You never say that you've got the law perfect or that it covers everything," Armistead said. "But I would say that by far, it's the most comprehensive law in the country now dealing with notification on sex offenders. We're confident that it has also prohibited the jeopardy of some children by the sex offenders who have moved into their neighborhoods."

The law has been amended several times mainly through suggestions from law enforcement.

"We've gone back in about four times and modified that law because as we worked through it, we saw examples of how we needed to strengthen it even more," Armistead said.

An example of such modifications, Armistead said, was calling for the Department of Public Safety to maintain an online database of the state's offenders, located at

Most recently, using suggestions from Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale, French sponsored a bill in the 2004 legislative session that sought to shorten the grace period for offenders when they move and to require offenders to pay a fee each time they move and re-register with law enforcement. The bill passed the Senate but died in the House.

French said he plans to reintroduce the bill in the next legislative session.

"Under the criminal code, there is a delay that says once you are registered in another county, you have 30 days to notify the sheriff of the new county," Hale said. "I believe that's too long. They should immediately notify the sheriff of the new county."

In the case of Tori Monette, if French's bill had been the law, Myers would have had to register as a sex offender with the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. But under existing law, he was legally residing within the county, Hale said.

"In that particular case, that offender was in his 21st day within the county and legally was within the grace period. This person moved in, was cohabiting with another person and a child ended up losing her life," Hale said.

"Would notifying the sheriff have saved her life? No one really knows. But it really made it look bad that this offender was within his legal rights not to have notified the sheriff."

Myers already, however, was in violation of an existing statute prohibiting him from residing with a minor, according to prosecutors.

French's bill that failed also would have required sex offenders to register in the county in which they work. Currently, offenders only have to register with law enforcement in the jurisdiction where they live. For example, a sex offender can live and be registered in Blount County but legally work next door to a school or day care center in Jefferson County. "Certainly, the law we passed a few years ago is better than not having one," French said. "But what I've identified with the help of Sheriff Hale is that there were some problems that existed. What my legislation sought to do was to kind of remediate those."

yousodumb 04-03-2015 01:30 AM

How do you know who will do what? What about the mother letting a stranger take care of her baby? There is no way to know what is going to happen. how can you legislate the future?? Maybe start using psychics???

R&R 04-03-2015 03:23 AM

patchouli 04-03-2015 06:15 AM

**The op is from 2004** Much has changed in 11 years, and things are still changing. Usually for worse, but I see a change in opinions as evidenced by the article R&R posted from

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