Ship them to the Everglades

Sex offender laws endanger the public by targeting 2,400 people on the State Police website. Like-minded residency restrictions in Dover and Franklin drove out half the registrants before lower courts struck them down as a senseless breach of fundamental property rights. That idea came from Florida, which banishes sex offenders to live with some big reptiles.

These laws recruit vigilantes. Lawrence Trant stabbed a Concord registrant in 2004 and tried to burn an apartment building with another seven registrants. “I hope I've done a service to the community,” Trant told the Boston Globe. “These guys are sexual terrorists.”

A Manchester mob burned a scarecrow on the porch of registrant Gloria Huot in 2006. Her roommate watched with her two young sons and a baby. The Union Leader posted this reader comment: “wow this is why these fah-kers need to die.” Bobbys97R.

Stephen Marshall of Nova Scotia killed two Maine registrants he found online in 2007. Victim William Elliot had slept with his under-age girlfriend as a teen himself.

David Wheelock of Keene, a registrant and invalid, was shot dead at his front door last December. Keene posts a map of registrants on the police website. A front door bludgeoning in October left Walter Field of Westmoreland with major head trauma. His attacker was looking for someone else, state police have told CCJR. The next door neighbor was a registrant.

At least 22 other sex offenders have died specifically because of the registry, according to news articles. More than 400 people convicted or simply accused of sex crimes have been slain in the past decade, and more than 700 have killed themselves.

Registrant Richard Willwerth sought help in December 2011 from my nonprofit agency, having lost his job and forgotten to register on his due date.

“I found out when I had walked into Manchester PD on 1/7/2011 to report an employment change,” Willwerth emailed me. “They took me into custody and charged me with felony failure to report. I was in no way attempting to avoid registration, in fact, I had called in on Dec. 31st to notify Manchester PD that I was spending new years in Belfast, Maine with my girlfriend. Since then I have gone into an emotional tailspin. Suicidal thoughts are with me daily and my girlfriend has since broken off with me.”

Our board chairman sought to encourage Willwerth after two suicide attempts, but he jumped to his death from the I-95 bridge in Portsmouth April 5, 2011.

New Hampshire published its registry in 2002 on the advice of John Stephen, then assistant commissioner of Safety. He told senators only 16 of 717 people on the non-public registry had done new sex crimes.

“You know,” Stephen testified, “I think that tells you that this (unpublished registry) law is working.” So he recommended publishing the list to cut recidivism more. Yet dozens of research articles confirm that sex offenders as a caste have the lowest same-crime recidivism rate of any ex-prisoners, between 1 and 5 percent in the first three years, depending on the state. The yearly rate then plummets.

A Hooksett neighbor denounced registrant Joel Dutton in 2009 of molesting his nine-year-old niece and urged the town to evict him with a residency restriction. Sen. David Boutin, a selectman, filed HB 1628 instead, an active notification bill to stir up neighborhoods when a sex offender moves in. A special website for Dutton soon said, “This is an incestuous family of whack-jobs and psychopaths, and it makes me feel good to know they are going down.” The state dropped charges against Dutton for lack of evidence.

Victim advocates in Ohio see the problem clearly. The rape crisis centers in Texas and Cleveland filed an amicus brief supporting the successful Williams v. Ohio challenge to the Ohio public registry. Margie Slagle, the lawyer for the women, argued the shaming list perpetuates dangerous myths, creates a false sense of security, misuses police resources, harms and destabilizes former offenders and thus increases the risk of recidivism. 

“Any argument,” Slagle wrote, “that Ohio's AWA (Adam Walsh Act) is simply a remedial law designed to protect children and the public from sexual abuse and sex crimes is seriously flawed. Ohio’s AWA is not based on empirical evidence or proven research, but on fear and misinformation.” The Ohio law was similar to New Hampshire’s.