AUGUSTA – The mother of one of the two men slain last Easter by a Canadian who sought out sex offenders on the Internet was among those asking Maine legislators Tuesday to change the state’s sex-offender registry.

“There should be degrees in this law,” said Shirley Turner of Hartland, who choked back tears as she told the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that her 24-year-old son lost his life because Maine’s registry wrongly labeled him as a dangerous pedophile.

“He was precious to me and always will be,” said Turner, clutching a framed picture of William Elliott. He was shot to death at his home in Corinth by a man who had looked up nearly three dozen names on Maine’s registry before gunning down Elliott and Joseph Gray, 57, of Milo, on April 16.

The gunman, 20-year-old Stephen Marshall of North Sydney, Nova Scotia, fatally shot himself that evening after being tracked to Boston by police.

On Tuesday, the legislative committee heard stories from acknowledged offenders, their families and advocates who said Maine’s registry fails to distinguish between those who have records of violence and represent a threat to their communities, and others who are less of a threat.

In Elliott’s case, “It was consensual,” said Turner. “My son was in love with a young girl. It was two weeks before her 16th birthday.”

William Thurber, 31, of Waldo, said he was a teenager when he got into a relationship that ended up in a sex conviction. A trained welder and truck driver, Thurber said he is unable to get a job or a home loan and lives on welfare because he’s on the registry.

“I’ve never been in trouble before or after” the offense, Thurber told the committee.

Mary Perry of Raymond said the registry, which included 2,492 names as of Tuesday, provides terrorists, vigilantes and others with access to personal information about offenders, creating potential threats to their personal safety.

Perry also questioned the fairness of “singling out in such a scarlet-letter fashion” sex offenders when the state has no registry for murderers, robbers, drug pushers and other freed convicts who are potential threats to the public.

Saying the registry should be vastly altered or completely removed, Perry suggested replacing it with a database held by local police, who would provide upon request information about dangerous pedophiles. Those with less-serious records would not have to register.

Committee members pointed out that federal law requires states to have sex offender registries. The law creates a three-tier system of classification, but details have yet to be fleshed out.

Without specific guidelines to follow, Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantara told lawmakers, they should proceed cautiously with any registry changes.

While most of Tuesday’s testimony highlighted the offenders’ case for changes, Kelly Thompson of Manchester urged the committee to “keep the integrity” of Maine’s present system, saying, “We should be able to live in a state we consider safe.”

“I feel as though our children need a voice,” Thompson added.

While Maine’s registry undergoes review in the State House, it is facing a constitutional challenge in Kennebec County Superior Court. James Mitchell, an Augusta-based lawyer who represents the plaintiff, told the committee that Maine’s registry needs to be refined “so we don’t have people on the Internet who are not dangerous.”

Since taking on the case of an offender identified as “John Doe,” Mitchell said he’s heard from 40 or 50 others who believe they are unfairly listed. One, he said, had been certified in another state as completely rehabilitated and unlikely to offend again, but when he returned to Maine “All of a sudden he was labeled a dangerous sexual predator.”

Maine’s registry law requires people convicted of sex offenses since 1982 to register with the state. “John Doe,” identified only as a Kennebec County resident, was convicted as a 19-year-old in 1985 of unlawful sexual contact with a 12-year-old. At the time of his conviction, “Doe” had no requirement to register with the state.

Mitchell presented arguments last Thursday to Superior Court Justice S. Kirk Studstrup, who took the matter under advisement.

Defending the registry law for the state, Assistant Attorney General Paul Stern said its retroactivity is constitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled so in cases in other states.

Mitchell agreed Tuesday with those who say it imposes extra punishment on some offenders.

“The courts have said it’s not punishment,” said Mitchell. “It is punishment.”



On the Net:

Maine Sex Offender Registry: http://sor.informe.org/sor/


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