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Opinion

Less talk, more action needed on sex offenders

The Spokesman-Review

Local prosecutors and authorities in North Idaho claim to be cracking down on violent sex offenders since the horrific murders and kidnappings of Brenda Groene, her lover and her children in May. But the evidence doesn’t back them up.

Consider convicted sex offender John Tuggle. He raped and impregnated his 13-year-old sister-in-law, served 10 years in prison, and then was released to rape and nearly kill his 12-year-old daughter. The authorities couldn’t do anything about the poor judgment that allowed this violent predator back into his children’s lives. But the extended family who worried about Tuggle’s return wonders why authorities wouldn’t disclose his whereabouts after his 2004 release.

Consider Daron Lee Barwick of Coeur d’Alene, one of three violent sex offenders living in Kootenai County and one of only 32 in the state of Idaho. For almost two weeks, the sheriff’s office tried in vain to get an arrest warrant from the prosecutor’s office after learning that Barwick had failed to report to authorities that he had moved, a violation of state law. Fortunately, Barwick was arrested in the meantime by the Coeur d’Alene Police Department on an unrelated charge.

Rather than talk tough about protecting society from dangerous predators, local prosecutors should be tough. Authorities should have kept Tuggle’s first victim and her family informed where the predator was living after he left prison. Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas’ office should have reacted promptly to the request by the sheriff’s office to issue an arrest warrant for Barwick – not make excuses afterward. The Groene murders and Tuggle’s brutal rape and knifing of his daughter prove there’s little margin for error in dealing with violent sex offenders.

The handling of Tuggle is doubly perplexing. First, according to his first victim, authorities told her and her family that Tuggle “was a free man” and his whereabouts was none of their business. Then Prosecutor Michael Peacock struck a questionable plea bargain in the new case. It’s not enough to opt for a plea to lesser charges simply to avoid forcing Tuggle’s daughter to testify against him and to save Shoshone County money on a trial. If the prosecutor had an air-tight case, he should have pursued all charges against Tuggle, including attempted murder and lascivious conduct, and a minimum sentence of life in prison without parole.

Tuggle faces sentencing for rape and kidnapping, each of which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison plus 15 years. If he ever gets out, his victims will live with the dread of being victimized by him again.

Meanwhile, Coeur d’Alene residents must live with the disturbing knowledge that another violent molester almost fell through the cracks, less than four months after Brenda Groene, her boyfriend and her son, Slade, were found bludgeoned to death in their Wolf Lodge Bay home.

The prosecutor’s office has offered excuses for its foot-dragging. The public should demand vigilance instead.

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