CORINTH – A man who shot two sex offenders to death in Maine got their names from the state’s online sex offender registry, authorities said Monday. The killings renewed fears that such lists expose ex-convicts to vigilante violence.
The gunman, Stephen A. Marshall, a 20-year-old from Canada, committed suicide Sunday night in Boston after being cornered aboard a bus by police.
Investigators were uncertain what relationship, if any, Marshall had with the two victims, who were killed Easter Sunday morning at their homes 25 miles apart.
But the two men were among 34 names in five towns that Marshall had looked up on the state Web site, said Stephen McCausland of the Maine Department of Public Safety. Investigators said they discovered that he visited the Web site because he typed in his name to receive extra information online, including street addresses.
The Web site, which gets 200,000 hits a month, was disabled while police searched for Marshall but was restored Monday afternoon.
“The events of the weekend will obviously be reviewed, but there are no plans to change the Web site at this point,” McCausland said.
All states have sex offender registries designed to let people know of child molesters and other sex offenders in their midst. Almost all of them, like Maine, post the information online.
But the killings added to a growing unease with such Web sites. Jack King from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Washington said making public sex offenders’ addresses can be an invitation to violence.
Harassment, vandalism, assaults and even killings of sex offenders have been reported from coast to coast.
“There are going to be crazy people out there,” King said. “And there’s going to be vigilantism.”
After New Jersey passed a public disclosure law on sex offenders in the 1990s, the brother of an offender was nearly beaten to death with a baseball bat when he was mistaken for his brother, King said.
In New Hampshire, Lawrence Trant went to prison after pleading guilty to the attempted murder of two convicted sex offenders whose names and addresses he found on an Internet registry posted by the state.
A sex offender Web site in Washington state was cited in the slayings of two convicted child rapists last summer. Michael Anthony Mullen, 35, pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to more than 44 years in prison.
In Maine, the registered sex offenders who were shot to death were Joseph Gray, 57, of Milo, and William Elliott, 24, of Corinth
Gray’s name was posted on a state Web site because he had moved to Maine after a Massachusetts conviction for sexual assault on a child under 14, McCausland said. Elliott was convicted of having sex with an underage girl, he said.
When he shot himself, Marshall had with him a laptop computer along with two handguns, said Dave Procopio, spokesman for the Suffolk County, Mass., District Attorney’s Office.
Marshall, a 20-year-old restaurant dishwasher from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, had come to Houlton, Maine, to visit his father, authorities said.
Investigators believe he used his father’s pickup during the killings. The father had not realized his son and truck were missing, McCausland said. Marshall also took two handguns and a rifle from his father, the spokesman said.
Police tracked Marshall to Boston after finding his pickup abandoned along with the rifle in Bangor and then discovering bullets of the same caliber used in the killings in a bus stop restroom.
Marshall’s father, Ralph Marshall, told reporters that his son didn’t appear troubled and never said he had been sexually abused. He was confident investigators would get to the bottom of the case.
“Right now, everything seems to be about speculation,” he said.
Maine’s sex offender registry, which went online in December 2003, has the names of more than 2,200 sex offenders. It contains such information as the offender’s name, address, date of birth, identifying characteristics and place of employment, as well as a photograph. Depending on the crime, the offender is required to register either for 10 years or for life.
In Washington state, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office posts a warning on its registry under the heading “Vigilantism – Zero Tolerance,” urging people not to use the information to harass offenders.
Carlos Cuevas from the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire said more research is needed into the effectiveness of sex offender registries. “Is it effective in lowering the rates of child victimization?” he asked.
In Maine, Gray and Elliott were shot about five hours apart. Neither man appeared to have caused a stir recently.
Gray and his wife moved a couple of years ago from Massachusetts to Milo, a town of about 2,400, said Kenny Hudak, a local police sergeant. Hudak said Gray had been reclusive.
In Corinth, residents were alerted when Elliott moved into a vinyl-sided trailer in the woods. The property was covered with trash, tires and at least a dozen junked vehicles.
“I think more people were concerned about the mess than him being a sex offender,” said Mary Hadley, who lives across the road.