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Chilling loophole

Mike Mebane has kept a secret for a long time.

An ugly secret, but one he is disclosing now in an effort to keep his brother in prison.

Mebane, who has had his issues in the past, is now a family man, happy and healthy and living in Texas. But his brother, John Mebane, did something that warped his life almost from the outset. It sent Mike Mebane on a course of self-destruction. After years of burying it and hiding behind drugs and self-harm, he pulled through the trauma.

Mike Mebane was just a little boy when John Mebane, then age 12, molested him.

He never told law enforcement. He only told his family years after his brother was in prison for molesting another little boy. But the long-held secret became public record at John Mebane’s parole hearing in January, where he was denied release.

Mike Mebane testified at the hearing, asking the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole to deny his brother’s request, saying “if you release him in an area you live and you know small boys or have grandchildren around, would you be OK with him living there?”

John Mebane was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for molesting a 4-year-old Lewiston boy in 1993. His criminal convictions include performing sex acts on one other boy and having the boy inappropriately touch him. Mebane was charged with abusing a third child, but that charge was dropped. He has another parole hearing in five years. If he is released – around 93 percent of those incarcerated are eventually paroled – John Mebane won’t be added to the sex offender registry.

That is why Mike Mebane wants his brother to stay in prison.

“I want that son of a bitch to never see the light of day ever again,” Mike Mebane said. “He’s never shown any remorse, and he’s had ample opportunity to apologize to me.”

The loophole

The sex offender registry doesn’t include many loopholes. But John Mebane could fit through this one.

The registry was adopted by the Idaho Legislature in 1998. It states that those convicted of some sex crimes will be added to a lifetime registry if convicted on or after July 1, 1993.

John Mebane was convicted of molesting the 4-year-old boy on June 30, 1993, just one day prior to the retroactive date of the registry.

Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said in an email he corresponded with colleagues in the state Senate and found that modifying the law to be infinitely retroactive would be unconstitutional.

Any attempt to retroactively include offenders prior to July 1993 would be deemed “ex post facto,” and such laws are unconstitutional. The rule is meant to prevent previously legislated criminal sanctions from being retroactive or increasing punishments. Idaho law conforms with federal code in this circumstance. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has found in two cases that publishing the registry online – in 2003 prior to its ubiquity on the web – was permitted since it was not considered an increased punishment.

Mike Mebane said he’s called each of Idaho’s congressmen trying to compel them to make the registry infinitely retroactive, but without movement on the federal level or a U.S. Supreme Court opinion it’s unlikely to change.

Invaluable/imperfect

While invaluable for keeping track of dangerous offenders in the community, the sex offender registry doesn’t leave much leeway for nuance.

It is helpful in alerting the public to those who could be a threat to children. But it has also drawn sharp criticism in instances in which perpetrators, sometimes 19 to 21 years old, are placed on the list for life. If a perpetrator older than 18 has sex with a victim younger than 16 and is convicted, sometimes termed statutory rape, he or she will carry the lifelong burden of registering. Boys and girls younger than 16 or with partners more than three years their senior do not have the ability to consent to sex, according to Idaho Code.

The strict monitoring program has been lauded as a way to keep sex offenders from re-offending. But, if discovered, it also can be an immediate trigger for eviction, loss of employment and loss of healthy relationships. Public access to the registry means anyone can quickly search a name on the web, find maps showing where registered offenders live and see a picture with limited information on a conviction.

There are ways for those currently registered to be removed from the list, or expunged, but only if the original crime is deemed nonviolent and the defendant has been crime free for 10 years. Expungement has its own chapter in Idaho Code, which gives a judge the final say after a prosecutor and the central registry are given the chance to rebut a petition for removal.

‘He should be added’

John Mebane was convicted in 1983 of molesting a young boy in Arizona and spent several years in prison. He was also charged for allegedly abusing a second child, but not convicted, according to records obtained by the L.A. Times from the Boy Scouts’ so-called “perversion files.” The files document investigations into known sexual offenders hidden from view until the Times uncovered them.

The Boy Scouts sent a Scout executive to look into Mebane when he tried to join a local Scout group after his release from prison.

Mebane tried, unsuccessfully, to join a Lewiston Scouting group in 1987. The “perversion files” document a Scout executive interviewing a Lewiston police detective to help determine if Mebane should be allowed in the program. Detective Tom Greene told the executive to “drop him (Mebane) like a hot potato,” according to the files.

The Scout executive wrote there were rumors that police officers paid a visit to Mebane and told him to stay away from youth volunteer organizations.

Mebane did, however, make it into the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, according to memos written by the Scout executive.

About six years later, Mebane met a boy through a co-worker. According to a transcript of the boy’s interview with a Lewiston detective, the boy initially liked being around Mebane, who supplied him with gifts and treats and took him to a local pond to feed ducks. But Mebane also did “wrong” things to the boy, who didn’t want to tell police the secret Mebane was making him keep.

The boy, whom the Lewiston Tribune has given the pseudonym John Doe, would be the victim in Mebane’s most recent conviction and prison term, according to an April 1993 Nez Perce County court file.

Court records from that time included a transcript of Doe speaking with a detective.

“John has told me that I can’t tell anyone in the world. … I can’t tell you. … Don’t under arrest him,” Doe told the detective. “He tells me not to tell my mom.”

Twenty-five years later Doe is gainfully employed, with multiple hobbies and a core group of friends in Oregon, he said in a recent phone interview. Doe said Mebane’s abuse caused him a lot of problems. But he sought therapy and, thanks to support and honesty from his friends and family, he’s doing OK.

“I don’t let it shut me in. I don’t let it stop me from reaching out or (leave me) living in fear,” Doe said. “I don’t have time for that.”

It wasn’t always so rosy. Doe said he spent four years homeless. He got low. He tried to stage a robbery at an Oregon bank, hoping a police officer would respond and shoot him in “suicide by cop.”

“I did learn, in that four years, I can survive anything; I’m still here,” Doe said.

Mike Mebane said he also tried to kill himself. But both victims pulled through the years of pain to build successful lives.

“As I got older, I was able to work through things in my head. I had problems with drugs as a teenager, and on more than one occasion I did what I thought would end it. For whatever reason it didn’t,” Mike Mebane said. “I wouldn’t change anything in my life. It made me who I am.”

Mike Mebane said he can’t forgive his brother for what he did. Doe said he holds no animosity, but that doesn’t mean he thinks John Mebane should be free and unsupervised.

“I think honestly, with John’s case, my personal opinion with him as a multiple offender (is) he should be added to the sex offender registry to potentially save another victim,” Doe said. “The only thing I can hope is there’s potential he learned something, losing over a quarter-century of his life. … Ultimately, I try to assume the best of people, and even with him (I) hope he can learn.”

‘A pattern of behavior’

John Mebane declined to be interviewed, through a friend of his outside of prison, Thelma Prisco.

Prisco, of Boise, has written letters to Mebane for about five years. Prisco learned of Mebane after her Catholic priest visited him in prison, and she took it on her own initiative to write to Mebane. Prisco has heard about Mike Mebane’s mission to keep his brother in prison. She empathizes with the pain Mike Mebane feels but said John Mebane has reformed and now knows the effects of his crimes.

“John told me he spoke with other men in prison and heard more than once how they were abused as children, and he began to realize what an awful thing it had been,” Prisco said. “He made excuses for himself (before). We can be good liars to ourselves.”

Prisco said Mebane told her he never intends to hurt children again.

She attended Mebane’s parole hearing and read a letter from a priest who advocated for Mebane’s release, according to minutes of the parole hearing. Prisco said the priest, who couldn’t attend due to health issues, offered financial support to Mebane if released. Minutes from the hearing reiterate Prisco’s words that Mebane was “lying to himself,” and that he “did in fact (have) a big impact on his victim.”

Mebane testified at his hearing that in his 25 years of incarceration he tried to get into sex offender classes but was ineligible, according to the minutes. He noted that he plans to seek treatment if released. But he also lied to the commission.

Mebane told them there were no other victims besides the Arizona boys and Doe.

Mike Mebane stood up and testified next. He told the commission he was his brother’s first victim.

In a phone interview after the hearing, Mike Mebane said his brother’s testimony sounded rote and practiced.

“I looked at him from the back, he never turned around once,” Mike Mebane said. “The commissioner asked the question point blank and he lied. This is a pattern of behavior with him.”

John Mebane’s next hearing is set for January 2023 in front of the full parole commission.

Even if he is released, two of his victims – though irrevocably harmed by the same man they trusted – look back at their past and see their future is stronger.

“He doesn’t have any power over me anymore,” Mike Mebane said. “He most likely will get out, hopefully in his 80s not his 50s so he’s less likely to hurt someone again.”

Both men said they are willing to talk about their experiences to encourage other victims of sexual abuse to come forward.

Doe wants any other victims of sexual abuse to know one simple thing: It’s not their fault.

“These victims, they definitely need to know that living their life in fear only limits them,” he said. “The people who support them, they need to love and support these people and tell them nothing you did was wrong.”