March 25, 2015

With 500 convicted killers on the streets, does Michigan need a murderer registry?

3-25-15 Michigan:

GRAND RAPIDS, MI - A man who had spent nearly all his adult years behind bars for second-degree murder was paroled to Grand Rapids after his prison term. A scant seven months later, money was tight and job options hadn't panned out for Paul White.

He went on a week-long armed robbery spree.

One store clerk described being frozen with fear as the man aggressively demanded cash. A victim at another business was inconsolable when police tried to calm her after the crime.

Around that same time last spring, another convicted murderer, Shawn Jarrett, was living and working in the Grand Rapids area, his coworkers and employer unaware of his violent past in Pennsylvania.

Police suspect Jarrett killed a mother of four, a coworker at an area greenhouse, and dumped her body in a pit. Before police caught up with him, he brutally raped and robbed an elderly woman in her home.

Hundreds of Michigan residents are on active parole for second-degree murder and manslaughter. The number totaled 539 last fall, according to Department of Corrections data released to MLive and The Grand Rapids Press through a Freedom of Information Act request.

They could be living next to you. Or your child's school. Chances are you'd never know it, though.

Other states, including Illinois and Indiana, maintain a murderer registry - and some prosecutors and victims' families are saying it's time for Michigan to follow suit.

"Dangerous people are going to get out. That's a fact of life. And people have to be aware of that and be proactive in taking steps to protect themselves," Kent County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Chris Becker said.

Becker acknowledges that a public registry would not necessarily deter violent criminals from offending again - but it would provide valuable information to residents and raise their awareness.

"I think the vast majority of people think this is Mayberry to some extent, and they don't realize there are dangerous people out there," he said.

Murderer registries are online databases listing an offender's name and address, along with a physical description or photo. This information is made available to the public once the offender is released from prison. Residents often can search these databases by location to see if any live near their homes, daycares or schools.

Michigan maintains a similar registry for those convicted of sex crimes. Michigan's sex offender registry requires those convicted of certain crimes to register their address with police to keep the database - which also includes their photo and criminal records - current.

In some states, out-of-state offenders like Jarrett who move to the area are required by law to register.

In Michigan, once someone convicted of second-degree murder or manslaughter is paroled, police in specific cities are notified, but not the public. Offenders convicted of first-degree murder are not eligible for release.

There's reason to be concerned about those offenders who are being released. Nearly half of the people incarcerated for murder are arrested for a new offense within five years of their release from state prison, according to a report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2014 that looked at recidivism patterns in 30 states.

In Michigan, information on violent criminals is available to the public only piecemeal.
The state's Offender Tracking Information System, a public website, allows people to look up information on inmates currently in prison and those who have been discharged from parole or otherwise in the last three years.

It shows their name, age, a photo and their crime and sentencing information.
If they have been paroled, it does not include their current address. And unlike the state's sex offender registry, there is no option to search for offenders by geographic area.

Creating a statewide murderer registry could be lifesaver, one Barry County mother said.

Sally Nink believes it would help protect communities from people like Kyle Wilson, who killed Nink's 15-year-old son in 2007 over an $80 debt. Months after Wilson's parole term ended after serving 3 ½ years in prison on that manslaughter conviction, he killed again. This time, he was convicted of second-degree murder, and is now serving a minimum of 46 years in the Michigan Reformatory in Ionia.

"It would be great to have that registry for killers. I wouldn't want to live next to a killer, especially knowing now what I know," Nink said. "I agree with the registry. ... The State of Michigan should do that."

Attorney General Bill Schuette declined to be interviewed about a murderer registry, but said through a spokeswoman that he would welcome the Legislature looking at the concept.

"It is good public policy to make that information available in new ways," spokeswoman Sydney Allen said. "The idea to implement a murderer registry is a good one, which is why the public has open and public access to felony records and (Law Enforcement Information Network) reports for prosecutors to see prior convictions of those later charged with other crimes."


Michigan's sex offender registry was created in 1994 when lawmakers passed legislation that required certain offenders to register their addresses with police, allowing prosecutors to issue arrest warrants for non-compliant offenders.

In the beginning, this information was available only to law enforcement agencies.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, then a state senator, sponsored legislation in 1996 to make the names on the sex offender registry available to the public. The registry at first was only accessible by visiting a law enforcement agency to view a paper copy. The website was introduced three years later.

Bouchard said crimes such as murder merit a debate about a registry, although he stopped short of taking a stance on creating one.

The challenge with registries is making sure the list focuses on dangerous individuals who have a possibility of re-offending, he said. The point is not to create fear, but for families to have the knowledge to make cautious decisions if they want, for instance, by instructing children to avoid an offender's house when trick-or-treating, he said.

"Information is power," he said.

When writing the legislation to make the sex offender registry public, Bouchard often fielded the question, "When is the punishment enough for offenders?" Offenders can remain on the registry for 15 years, 25 years or for life, depending on their conviction.

Bouchard pointed to the emotional and psychological scars that victims and their relatives bear their entire lives.

"My sympathy lies with the victim first. Since they can't quote, unquote 'move on,' why should the person that caused that pain be able to forget it?" he said.


Terry Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs' Association, said a murderer registry could be important for keeping residents aware, but a database wouldn't be foolproof and could create a false sense of security. The self-reporting requirement is an inherent failure of registries such as the sex offender list, he said.

Still, a quick and easy method of checking a neighbor's background would be useful, he said.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so knowing that person has had a proclivity to migrate to violent crimes may be good information for you to have in protecting yourself," Jungel said. "People have a right to know that this person violated those laws, and I should have that information when determining whether or not that person's going to babysit for my children or work for my business."

Some argue a murderer registry could create a stigma and publicly brand offenders as they attempt to re-enter society.

Grand Rapids Police Sgt. Terry Dixon works closely with parolees and directs CLEAR, a group that helps men re-enter society after jail or prison. He sees a public benefit to a murderer registry, but only if it's reserved for the worst of the state's convicted killers, like those who behaved poorly in prison.

"Maybe that should be reserved for the proven violent offenders. For example, we track their record throughout their incarceration," Dixon said. "On average, I would not support it."

William Lugrand, 75, twice convicted of murder and now making a quiet life for himself in Grand Rapids, believes a public murderer registry would be a dark mark against him.
He knows not everyone thinks ex-convicts like him should be free.

"I think a lot of people live in black and white, that you shouldn't be given a chance because of the violations that you committed," said Lugrand, who killed a prostitute and a drug dealer years apart in fits of rage.

He thinks everyone has the ability to change their lives. Having their name on a registry would hamper that, he said.

Former state Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, a vocal advocate for prison reform, said a public murderer registry would "just perpetuate a problem of making people afraid of people that they don't need to be afraid of." It could lead to harassment from neighbors and further stigmatize ex-convicts who have worked hard to turn their lives around, he said.

"And ultimately it will have the adverse effect, making them more apt to reoffend because they have a harder time functioning in society," Haveman predicted.

State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, argued that taking precautions around neighbors "doesn't mean you're abusing that person or harassing them." He believes violent offenders should be monitored on a registry for a minimum of 10-15 years.

State law requires some prisoners who had been serving up to a life sentence, or commutation cases, be supervised for four years when released on parole. Other offenses, such as second-degree murder, require a two-year community supervision period. In other cases, the parole board sets the term.

Jones, former sheriff of Eaton County, recalled when a man who had shot and killed two relatives and injured others was released from a mental hospital. It was a high-profile case and the community was aware of his return to the county. Some residents were upset about his release, but, Jones said, "at least they knew where he was at and could watch for behaviors that were dangerous to others."

"But many times people are released in Michigan communities and no one knows who they are," he said. ..Source.. by Angie Jackson

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