AUGUSTA – For a period of months last year, Durham residents didn’t know that serial rapist Ron Leno was living in their town. On Monday, Rep. Michael Vaughan, R-Durham, told lawmakers he wants to make sure that never happens again, in any Maine town.

Vaughan was among the voices testifying in favor of several proposed laws aimed at protecting the public from sex offenders.

Vaughan testified for a bill that would mandate the Department of Public Safety notify town clerks when someone on the state’s sex offender registry moves in.

He also spoke for a bill that would allow Maine to commit sexually violent predators to an institution when a court determines the person is likely to harm again. Vaughan said he doesn’t care where the men are put, he just wants the public protected.

Leno was convicted of raping four women between 1979 and 1981 in Hawaii and Massachusetts.

During the daylong hearing on get-tough proposals for sex offenders, police and victims also asked lawmakers to: force more offenders to register, restrict where they live and impose harsher sentences.

Daniel Astbury, 25, of Old Town, said he and three others were molested by the same man, who was a teacher and coach. The man who molested them was sentenced to 26 years in prison, with all but eight suspended, but served less than five years because of “good time.”

“It happened to me for 10 years,” from age 8 to 18, Astbury said, asking how his attacker could serve only four years and nine months. “How is that fair? How is that justice?” The pain of being molested “is a life sentence on me,” Astbury said. “I’m begging you, change the law.”

Michelle Tardif of Saco said that 16 years ago, when she was 10, a man in her neighborhood kidnapped her, sexually assaulted her for hours, “then strangled me and left me for dead in a wooded area in Limerick.”

Today her attacker “is walking the streets a free man. When I say free I mean never having to register as a sexually violent offender.” That’s because, Tardif said, he was convicted before 1992. Maine law says only those convicted after June 30, 1992, must register.

Tardif learned last fall that he was being released from prison and moving to Hollis. On her own, she notified Hollis residents. “The thank-yous I got from those people were enough for me to see people want to know,” she said, “but why should I as the victim have to be the one to make notification?”

Her attacker since moved and is now living “a few blocks from Palace Playland in Old Orchard Beach,” Tardif said.

Portland Police Chief Michael Chitwood said better registration and notification laws is the best way to protect the public. When people know “these guys are in their neighborhood,” the recidivism rate “is almost zero,” because people watch them, Chitwood said.

Some of the proposals were opposed by defense attorneys, the Maine Civil Liberties Union and two sex offenders.

Duane Ballard of Palmyra, who was convicted of a sex crime in Ohio, said Maine is “bowing to the prevailing hysteria” about offenders repeating their crimes. If Maine’s 1,500 registered sex offenders did repeat their offenses, “we should be hearing about new sex offenses in Maine every few days, or at least one a week,” he said.

Ballard compared how sex offenders are treated to how Hitler treated the Jews, saying “We have created a class of people that can be hated.”

The bills are scheduled to be taken up by the Criminal Justice Committee on April 28.

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