Sex Offenders -- Flaws In The System
When I wrote this back in January, I knew there was a serious problem with our system of dealing with child sex offenders. What I didn't know, was that the floodgates were about to open, exposing at least three children to the deadly flaws. Since then Jessica Lunsford, Jetseta Gage, and Sara Lunde have each been murdered. In each case a known sex offender is the acused killer.
-John Walsh | 04.17.2005
The following is an editorial by John Walsh
On January 18, 2005, 11-year-old Adam Kirkirt was abducted, police say by 42-year-old Frederick Fretz, a man who was living with Adam and his father in their home in Marion County, Fla. Fretz is a man with a sick history -- he's a convicted sex offender -- the lowest of the low. Back in 1989 he had moved in with a family in Pennsylvania. He'd gained their trust and confidence and then begun sexually abusing their 10-year-old son.
Eventually Fretz's dirty secret was discovered. He was convicted; he served time; he was released. But let's face it -- sex offenders can never be wholly rehabilitated; they will always be a threat. We are so lucky that Adam Kirkirt was recovered safely. I thank God that this time the story didn't end in tragedy. But next time a child is abducted by a sicko we may not be so lucky.
What kind of country do we live in where a pedophile can freely move from one state to another and then move in with an 11-year-old boy? The answer is simple, but the issue is complex. There are major flaws in the system. And while significant steps have been taken to improve the system, it's not good enough. Why do we always have to wait until tragedy strikes, before we can get changes made?
Jacob Wetterling And Megan Kanka
In 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was abducted at gunpoint from his neighborhood in St. Joseph, Minn. He has never been found and his abductor has never been identified. But Jacob's mother, Patty Wetterling, learned that sex offenders who had recently been released were being put up in a halfway house not far from the abduction scene. She was furious that no one knew of the dangers lurking in her own community. Patty became a tremendous advocate and in 1994 the Jacob Wetterling Act was passed. It established requirements for states to create and implement a sex offender registry
But that law wasn't strong enough to protect little Megan Kanka. In 1994, 10-year-old Megan was raped and murdered by Jesse Timmendequas, a registered sex offender who lived right across the street. The problem was that even though Timmendequas had followed the law and registered as an offender, that registration was practically meaningless. Local police were prohibited from letting the community know about Timmendequas and the terrible danger he posed to children. Can you imagine? A two-time convicted sex offender lived right across the street from Megan's family, and they didn't even know about it.
After Megan's brutal murder communities everywhere asked the same questions we're asking about Frederick Fretz today. How could it have happened. All the warning signs were there. Why didn't the families know they were living among such vicious criminals? Thanks to the public's cry of outrage, Megan's Law was passed in 1996. It built on to the Jacob Wetterling Act and required states to make private and personal information on registered sex offenders available to the public.
The System Has To Change
Find the sex offender registry for your state »
NCMEC's Model State Sex Offender Policy - an 8 point strategy to protect children »
Sex Offenders Keep Finding Loopholes »
Child Sex Offenders - Definitions »
It's a good start. But it's not enough. Sex offenders like Fretz are able to slip through the cracks. For one thing -- states have no way to track incoming offenders to their state -- they only know about an offender if he registers with their state. States have to rely on an offenders' good will.
In Florida, Fretz didn't register -- and the system didn't catch him. In the spring of 2004 Fretz got a Florida driver's license and he didn't register. In the fall of 2004 Fretz was arrested for domestic battery and possession of marijuana in Marion County, Florida. He still hadn't registered as a sex offender, but he served two measly months, bonded out and proceeded to move in with 11-year-old Adam. Cops never knew he was an unregistered sex offender -- and the community didn't know either.
Just to set the record straight, I want to let you know that law enforcement in this case did the right things by the book. The policy at the Marion County Jail, where Fretz served, was to run background checks only on felons. Fretz's new crimes (domestic battery and possession of marijuana) were misdemeanors. Because of this case the sheriff's department says it's changed its policy. Now they'll require a criminal-history check on everyone who bonds out of jail.
How can it be that in an advanced nation like America, Frederick Fretz was able to leave Arizona, where he did register as an offender, and move to Florida undetected? Why do we constantly have to see tragic cases like this one before we get tougher? Right now every state differs in its sex offender registry laws. How does it notify citizens? Which offenders are required to register? What is the duration of that registration? What information is registered and what information is shared?
I want to leave you with one last thought. Even with registration, law enforcement has its hands tied.
Police in Cleveland, Ohio say they know of an ex-con who's been ruled a sexual predator. The guy is living less than two blocks from two elementary schools. That's violating a court order. But the cops' hands are tied. All they can do is ask him to move. They can't arrest him, they can't even evict him. The system has effectively neutered the cops -- when it's really the offenders who should be neutered.