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Sex crimes

Sex crime prevention: Local officials suggest safeguards


By Casey Santee - Journal Writer

When authorities arrested convicted sex offender Joseph Duncan III at a Denny's restaurant in Coeur d' Alene, and rescued the kidnapped Shasta Groene, Duncan's alleged crimes outraged people across the country.

Meanwhile, authorities here see more sex offenders.

Sheriff Lorin Nielsen is responsible for tracking sex offenders in Bannock County. He says there are more of them now than when he took the job in 1996. He also said the Groene case shows sex offenders are becoming more aggressive.

Take the case of Montpelier resident Fred Willie. He was charged in July with nine counts of lewd conduct with a minor.

Bear Lake Prosecutor Ardee Helm says the number of victims could grow as the investigation unfolds. Pocatello Police first investigated Willie in 1969 when he lived in the Gate City, but he was never charged.

A judge's perspective

In his 24 years as a district judge, Peter McDermott has sentenced hundreds of sex offenders. He said it's important not to lump them all into the same category.

He used the example of an 18-year-old man who is charged with rape after having consensual sex with his 17-year-old girlfriend. "It's not right," McDermott said. "Legislators could redefine this without the connotation of rape."

But when it comes to sentencing predatory sex offenders - those who entice children into sexual acts or force themselves on other adults - McDermott said he wouldn't oppose castration. He said most experts agree these criminals can't be rehabilitated.

"We have to protect our children and we're not doing that now," McDermott said. "When sexual prisoners get out, they're still the same. I think society has an obligation to fix them so they can't do it again."

Defendants convicted of sexual crimes undergo a psychosexual evaluation before they are sentenced. That way, judges know what kind of deviance they are dealing with.

After their release from prison, sex offenders have to register with the county they live in for at least 10 years. After that, they can request a hearing to determine if they are still a threat to society. If the judge rules in their favor, they no longer have to register.

"The evidence has to be beyond a reasonable doubt," McDermott said. "I've only had one of those requests, and I denied it."

A Prosecutor's Point of View

Chief Deputy Prosecutor Dennis Wilkinson said the law already provides police, prosecutors and judges the ability to deter sex offenders and protect society from them.

He said his office made sex crimes among its top priorities.

"Sexual assault is the most traumatic thing that can happen to someone," Wilkinson said. "It comes down to officers doing good investigation and prosecutors pursuing good cases and doing it diligently."

Wilkinson said sex crimes fall into four categories: rape, lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor, sexual abuse of a minor and sexual battery of a 16- or 17-year-old. Maximum penalties for these crimes break down as follows:

- Rape carries up to life in prison. It can be either forced or statutory.

- Lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor also carries up to life in prison. Wilkinson said this includes all the worst things people think of when they think of pedophilia.

- Sexual battery of a 16- or 17-year-old carries up to 15 years in prison. A person can be charged with this if they are older than a minor victim by at least five years.

- Sexual abuse of a minor carries up to 15 years in prison. Wilkinson described this as everything that doesn't add up to lewd conduct.

A Sheriff's Opinion

Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said the current sex offender laws in Idaho are about 10 years old, and while they're not perfect, they've worked well.

Nielsen said when sex offenders move into the county, they have nine days to register here. After that, they must reregister every year or any time they move. If they fail to do so, they could be charged with a felony.

To monitor sex offenders, Nielsen uses a team of deputies called the Sex Offender Apprehension Program.

SOAP officers go to offenders' homes unannounced, making sure they still live there and are following the rules.

"Right now that's about the best we have," Nielsen said. "I would like to see the Legislature give more money for more intense supervision of these folks. If they're going to continue making more demands on us, please give us the funding to do the job."

Nielsen believes the sex offender registry should be published in local newspapers or elsewhere to remove the veil of secrecy they operate under.

He said the problem he sees is that sex offenders need treatment, but no one wants the facility in their back yard. In fact, the law prohibits treatment centers and halfway houses for sex offenders near schools or where children live.

"We need a place for them," he said. "But about the only spot we can do it is in the Arco desert which isn't going to help anyone."