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Coeur d’Alene rape suspect not on registry

Tue., May 4, 2010, midnight

Man accused of assaulting woman is sex offender

A man accused of raping a Coeur d’Alene woman early Saturday was convicted in 1990 of raping a child in Washington, but a plea bargain led to his removal from the Idaho sex offender registry – a registry his lawyer challenged as unconstitutional.

Thomas C. Dickerson, 40, was twice charged with failing to register as a sex offender after moving to Kootenai County from Washington, where he’d been convicted of raping a 13-year-old girl in 1990.

But while he’s on probation for failing to register as a sex offender, a plea agreement with prosecutors in 2008 included a stipulation that he not be required to register anymore.

The legal technicalities at the center of Dickerson’s case are similar to glitches in Washington sex offender laws targeted by the state Legislature this year.

Senate Bill 6614, which becomes law on June 10, was triggered in part by a child molester, Charles John Werneth, who didn’t register as a sex offender after moving to Spokane County from Georgia.

The Washington Court of Appeals overturned Werneth’s conviction in November 2008, ruling he wasn’t required to register in Washington because the Georgia law under which he was convicted didn’t match Washington’s molestation laws.

The reason? There were differences in how the laws in each state were crafted. Georgia’s law didn’t specify that the victim had to be at least 36 months younger than the perpetrator and not married to the perpetrator like Washington’s does.

“It was frustrating to our detectives,” said Spokane County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Dave Reagan. “But we think we’ve closed that loophole.”

Werneth will be required to register under the new law, which was rewritten to specify, among other changes, that anyone required to register as a sex offender in another state will be required to register in Washington if they move here.

In Dickerson’s last case, a 2008 plea agreement quashed a legal debate in Idaho over what his lawyer said was an unconstitutional state law that still treated native Idahoans different than out-of-state residents.

Dickerson pleaded guilty to failing to register as a sex offender, and prosecutors agreed to his removal from the registry under a state law that allows for sex offenders to petition their removal from the registry if more than 10 years have passed since the offense and they have no pending charges. Washington requires 15 years.

In accordance with the deal reached with prosecutors, Kootenai County District Judge John T. Mitchell ordered Dickerson removed from the registry on Nov. 4, 2008, after reviewing defense information from a psychologist that said Dickerson was not at risk to re-offend.

Now Dickerson is back in the Kootenai County Jail after a Coeur d’Alene woman told police he raped her early Saturday in the area of West Clady Lane and North Fruitland Lane.

The woman, who was treated and released from Kootenai Medical Center, told police that Dickerson hit her in the face, strangled her and raped her before fleeing the home. Police arrived about 3 a.m. and spotted Dickerson driving in the area.

Dickerson remains in jail on $500,000 bond after appearing before Kootenai County District Judge Scott Wayman on charges of rape and battery with intent to commit rape.

Dickerson has previous convictions for failing to register as a sex offender in Pierce County, along with convictions for drug and stolen property possession.

When asked by Wayman on Monday if he wished to comment on his bond amount, Dickerson said: “It doesn’t really matter. This is a bunch of a bull … .” He declined a jailhouse interview.

Kootenai County Deputy Prosecutor Ken Brooks said Dickerson is a repeat sex offender who faces a life sentence if convicted as a habitual offender.

Dickerson was convicted of second-degree child rape in Pierce County in 1990. He was convicted of failing to register in 1993 and 1998, then convicted again in Idaho after moving to Kootenai County in 2002.

But the Idaho Court of Appeals overturned the conviction in 2006 and ruled Idaho’s sex offender registry law unconstitutional.

At the time, the law required anyone who moved to Idaho register as a sex offender if they’d been convicted of a sex crime in another state. But the law didn’t require long-term Idahoans convicted before 1993 to register unless they were in prison or on probation or parole. The Court of Appeals ruled that that violated the U.S. Constitution’s right to travel from state to state.

Dickerson’s lawyer, Dennis Reuter, argued in 2008 that the new law still violated that right, but Dickerson eventually pleaded guilty to the charge in an agreement that said he could be placed back on the registry if he didn’t attended treatment or committed other crimes, according to court documents.

Mitchell sentenced Dickerson to five years probation on Sept. 17, 2008, and said he faced up to nine years in prison if he didn’t comply.

Reuter said he couldn’t remember the details of the case. The Kootenai Public Defender’s Office directed questions to John Adams, who was out of the office. Kootenai County Prosecutor Barry McHugh was unfamiliar with the details of Dickerson’s case.

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