Steve Groene called on the public Wednesday to lobby their congressmen, their senators and “even the president” to keep sexual predators off the streets.
“People need to start complaining to their elected officials, and we need to get some laws changed and we need to do it quickly,” Groene said during a news conference in Coeur d’Alene.
Authorities on Wednesday linked convicted rapist Joseph Edward Duncan III to the slayings of Groene’s son Slade, ex-wife Brenda and her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie. Duncan was arrested early Saturday after he was spotted at the Coeur d’Alene Denny’s restaurant with 8-year-old Shasta Groene, who had been missing since the bodies were discovered May 16.
Her brother, Dylan, is feared dead.
“This needs to stop here,” Steve Groene said in a hoarse voice. “People like this should not be out in public.”
Victims’ advocates say kidnapping and likely murder charges being pressed against Duncan point to the need for a national registry for sex offenders, but those same advocates say there’s only so much protection a registry affords society.
Duncan was a registered Level III sex offender in North Dakota, a classification given to the most heinous of sex offenders and those considered likely to reoffend.
Polly Franks, a board member of Coalition for Victims in Action, supports legislation pushing for a nationwide registry of sex criminals. The Senate is considering Dru’s Law, a measure named for a North Dakota college student abducted and murdered in 2003, which would establish a Web site linking all of the states’ sex offender registries.
Franks believes the national registry may prevent crimes like the one that has rocked the community in North Idaho, allegedly committed by an out-of-state sex offender, but she said the shortcoming of any sex offender registry is the “lack of teeth” in the laws requiring sex offenders to register.
“They’ve relied on the honor system for hardened sex offenders, which would be funny if it wasn’t so terrible,” Franks said.
Duncan, a convicted rapist, was facing new charges of molestation in Minnesota, skipped bail and fled. Though the law requires sex offenders to register if they move from one state to the next, not all sex offenders follow the rules.
According to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children there are 549,038 registered sex offenders nationwide and an estimated 100,000 more who are “lost,” or fail to register.
The center criticizes the inconsistencies in registries and procedures of notifying a community of violent sex predators. Registries and sex offender laws need to be more uniform among the states, the center says, and registered sex offenders need to be better tracked.
Franks’ two daughters were attacked by a neighbor and family friend who, unbeknownst to Franks, had been convicted of rape in another state.
“If you’ve got someone in a neighboring state who’s convicted and he moves across the street from you, you’ll have no idea,” Franks said. That information could be accessible with a nationwide registry, but again, Franks said – that’s only if the sex offender has registered in the first place.
As Franks watched the recent events unfold in North Idaho – in which a high-level sex offender was arrested and charged with the kidnappings of two Coeur d’Alene elementary students, only one of whom was found alive – she boiled over with anger.
“This was a preventable tragedy,” Franks said. Though Duncan was among the most high-risk sex offenders in Fargo, N.D., a Minnesota judge let him out on $15,000 bail earlier this year after he was charged with molesting a 6-year-old boy in that state.
“When these Level IIIs are let go, we should not be surprised when the public suffers terribly,” she said.
If Martha Stewart has to wear a GPS tracking bracelet, Frank said, why not strap one on a sex offender?
A handful of states already require high-level sex offenders to wear satellite tracking devices. Florida has a minimum sentence of 25 years to life for sex offenders who commit crimes against young children and also uses GPS tracking to keep tabs on those offenders once they’re released from prison. Some communities have chosen to adopt sex offender laws and registration requirements that are more stringent than state laws.
Jesse Groene, 18, brother of Shasta and Dylan Groene, said current laws are too lax. “People who can’t control themselves sexually and conduct sexual crimes should be castrated or not let back on the streets,” he said. At the very least, Groene said, sexual criminals who are let out on the streets should have a tracking chip.
Megan’s Law, passed in 1996, requires all states to inform a community when sex offenders are released. But the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said states have broad discretion in how that law is carried out.
In most states, communities are only notified when offenders classified as violent sex predators are released from prison – and the methods of delivering the notification vary. In some states, law enforcement officers go door to door in the neighborhood where a violent sex offender is registered. Some mail out notices to the community.
Carissa’s Law was passed in Idaho in early 2003, requiring local sheriffs to advertise the picture, name, address and criminal history of violent sexual predators who move into the county. The law was named in memory of 14-year-old Carissa Benway, of Post Falls, who was murdered by a sex offender from Washington who lived next door to Benway and her family.
Idaho has 31 violent sex predators on its registry; six reside in the five northern counties.
Though Idaho’s registry has only two classifications – sex offenders and violent sex predators. Washington has three levels of sex offenders, with Level III considered the highest risk to reoffend.
The state notifies the community when Level III offenders are released into the community or move into the community.
A private company has begun offering free alerts to subscribers when a sex offender registers in their community.
Houston-based Scan USA Corp. checks sex offender registries daily, said Linda Spagnoli, the company’s director of communications. Its “predator alerts” can be sent over any web-enabled device, including cell phones, or by e-mail. Registration is available at www.scanusa.com.
Franks said one of the easiest ways parents can protect their kids from sex offenders is to check their state’s registry for sex offenders in their community. Links to each state’s sex offender registry are online at www.klaaskids.org and Idaho’s online registry is at www.isp.state.id.us.
“As the pedophile priest scandal has taught us, it could be anybody,” Franks said.
Spagnoli said parents should know whether there are sex offenders along the route their children walk to school.
“Talk to your kids and tell them why they need to steer clear of it,” she said.
Michael Paranzino was outraged when he heard that Duncan had been let out on a bail, only to harm another child.
“It is nearly useless to know that your own street or neighborhood has no molesters, because a bus, car or subway can put thousands of molesters within your child’s reach within minutes,” said Paranzino, president of Maryland-based Throw Away The Key, a group that advocates incarceration and civil commitment of violent sex predators.
“This is a tragedy for one family, but a scandal for our justice system,” Paranzino said. “Can you believe they had a violent, convicted child molester arrested for a new molestation and they let him out on bail?”