PORTLAND – Sex offenders expect to be harassed and ostracized for their actions. Until now, at least, they haven’t expected to be attacked.
That could change with Sunday’s fatal shootings of two sex offenders who were listed on the state’s Internet sex offender registry.
Raymond Roberts, a sex offender who’s listed on the registry and lives near the victims, said Tuesday it just as easily could have been him.
“It’s really scary,” said Roberts, who lives in central Maine but asked that his hometown not be identified. “I live alone. I live way out in the country and basically I could be here for days, a dead body, shot.”
The deaths of Joseph Gray, 57, of Milo and William Elliott, 24, of Corinth, also were on the minds of sex offenders at a treatment session in Auburn, said Scott Efland, a social worker who treats sex offenders.
“One man said, It’s target practice and we’re the target,”‘ Efland said Tuesday. “They’re very afraid.”
The murders renewed concerns about the public disclosure of sex offenders’ names and addresses on Internet registries.
Police say Stephen Marshall of Nova Scotia looked up 34 sex offenders on the state’s online registry before showing up at Gray’s and Elliott’s homes and shooting them with a .45-caliber handgun. Marshall took guns and his father’s pickup truck from his father in Houlton before making the trip to the victims’ homes.
Marshall fatally shot himself Sunday night after police confronted him on a bus in Boston. Maine investigators hope his laptop computer, which will be handed over to Maine detectives on Friday, will provide some clues about what motivated him to kill.
Many offenders are concerned that the Maine registry lumps all sex offenders together, whether their cases involved child sexual abuse or a domestic situation, said Kay Landry, a social worker in Augusta who treats sex offenders.
Another concern is the impact that posting photos and names has on an offender’s family, particularly when the offense occurred long ago.
Roberts, who was convicted 13 years ago for assaulting his nephew, said he supports the registries in general but thinks people should be able to get off the list if they go a certain amount of time without committing any offenses.
Also, registries shouldn’t give out addresses or places of employment, and offenders should be notified if somebody accesses their information so they can be on guard, he said.
“My concern is this: Is this going to happen again?” he said.
Efland said some offenders at Tuesday’s treatment session were concerned that the state activated the online registry just a day after taking it down following the murders.
“I think there’s a lot of anxiety on the decision to put the registry right back up in terms of a copycat type of thing,” he said.
In Bellingham, Wash., police reviewed their Internet sex registry after a man used it to get two sex offenders’ names and addresses, break into their home posing as an FBI agent and fatally shoot them last year.
After the review, police stopped listing exact addresses; they now list the block the offenders’ live on.
But even after the murders in Maine, there seemed to be no call to take down the registry as a precaution for other convicted offenders.
“Nobody wants to see anybody cut any slack for pedophiles,” said State Rep. Patricia Blanchette, co-chair of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
At the same time, Blanchette thinks a panel created by the Legislature to study community safety and sex-offender accountability should be reconstituted to take up the issue and look specifically at whether some categories of offenses need to be listed.
“I think they need to reconvene and look at who is on the sex offender site,” said Blanchette, a Democrat from Bangor.
Rep. Sean Faircloth, a leader of the sex offender study committee, agreed that registries are ripe for a new look.
But next time around he would like to see more emphasis on prevention of sex crimes through policies such as increased penalties and additional jail time for certain offenses.
“That’s where you reduce sex crimes – not registries,” said Faircloth, D-Bangor. “I have yet to see data that shows sex registries actually work” to either reduce crime or increase public safety.
But even with questions about the registries, they carry clear benefits such as allowing parents to check on people who come in contact with their children at schools, churches and other places, Efland said.
There’s a balancing act between public safety and offenders’ rights, but the registries can also serve as a deterrent for sex offenders, he said.
“There’s a sense that people are watching them,” he said. “The person in line behind them at Hannaford may or may not have seen their picture on the Web site, and it keeps people honest in what they’re supposed to do, in terms of avoiding children and that sort of thing.”