November 14, 2015

Convicted sex offender wants off registry 28 years after offense

11-14-15 New Hampshire:

Three months ago, a woman named Dawn was sitting at work in Washington, D.C., when she got a call from an investigator with the Merrimack County Attorney’s office. It was about her adoptive father, a man whom the courts here have come to refer to as “John Doe.”

Doe was convicted three decades ago of molesting Dawn when she was a young teen in Hooksett, once in 1983 at Lambert Park and again the next year at their home, where Dawn’s mother and three other children also lived. Now 65, disabled and essentially sequestered in a Manchester boarding house, Doe wanted off the public sex offender registry so he could access subsidized housing.

In fact, he had been trying to get off the list for years, and in a landmark decision this February, the state’s highest court ruled he should at least be afforded the chance to prove he’s no longer a predatory threat through a hearing in Merrimack County Superior Court.

“Once I heard those words, everything else was just a blur,” Dawn recalled this week, asking that her surname be withheld to protect the identify of her immediate family.

She knew nothing of Doe’s campaign, having left the state at 21 and trying hard since not to look back.

“I got off the phone with her, I went into the bathroom and sat on the floor for two hours and cried,” she said.

It was the beginning of an emotional new saga for Dawn, now 46 and married with children, and it could prove the first of several involving victims like her, whose perpetrators were convicted before the registry was created in 1993.

At least hundreds of public registrants – out of about 3,000 total – are newly eligible to seek the same relief as Doe, according to Marta Modigliani, staff attorney at the New Hampshire Department of Safety, which runs the registry.

“This is a new feature of our criminal justice system,” said Grafton County Attorney Lara Saffo.

‘Paid his debt’

Doe pleaded guilty to two felonies on Nov. 16, 1987, in exchange for a suspended 2½-year prison sentence. He was placed on probation and ordered to attend sex offender counseling, which he did weekly for two years. By August 1990, he had completed all the terms of his punishment.

“He had paid his debt to society,” his attorneys later wrote in a motion. “He was one of thousands of anonymous felons.”

Two years later, New Hampshire created a registry as part of a national crackdown on sex crimes. At first, only those convicted after 1992 had to enlist, and only law enforcement could access the information. But in 1994, the requirements were applied retroactively for six years, meaning Doe had to start registering annually for life.

He wouldn’t find out, however, until 2004, when he said police first informed him of the revision. He began reporting, and has every year since, according to his attorneys.

The law has been revised several times. Registrants are now required to check in with police every three months, are subject to surprise visits, must report any online accounts and have to notify landlords and employers of their offender status. A searchable database has been available online since 2002.

In 2005, Doe tried to move in with his son, but neighbors found out and sent an anonymous flyer to his landlord. The next year, he collapsed at a family gathering and was rushed to Elliot Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a severe abdominal aortic rupture. He has had trouble walking since, and experiences ongoing intestinal problems related to the rupture.

Doe began applying for federal public housing to accommodate his disabilities in December 2006, but he was denied because of his status as a lifetime sex offender. He and a sibling kept trying, however, and three years later were connected with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, which agreed to take his case. Bill Chapman, a prominent First Amendment attorney, later joined.

Chapman argued before the high court last year that Doe had been subjected to harassment and squalid living conditions because of the registry, despite having served his original sentence. He has had no new felony or sexual assault convictions since 1987, according to Chapman. (Chapman noted two minor offenses, however, including possession of a controlled drug and violation of a protective order involving an ex-wife.)

“He did this, he regrets this,” Chapman reiterated this week. “But it was 30 years ago.”

‘Pay this price’

In its decision earlier this year, the court said the law had become overly punitive to offenders like Doe, who were convicted before the registry’s creation and could not have known they would be subject to it at the time.

But its prescribed remedy, a superior court hearing – at least until lawmakers can come up with something better – was a surprise move, and each side has been busy preparing for a showdown in the months since. Doe’s attorneys had him submit to a pyschosexual evaluation, which, according to Chapman, showed him to be a low risk in each of three categories.

State and county prosecutors began combing through the original criminal case. But after so many years, many of the records were difficult, if not impossible, to find. When they contacted Dawn, she was flabbergasted that they hadn’t notified her sooner.

“He’s had four years to prepare for a case, and I’ve had three months to digest what is going on,” she said in an interview Wednesday, accompanied by victims advocates.

She agreed to fly up last month and give a statement, and insisted on testifying at the hearing, which was scheduled for last week. On Monday, however, Chapman notified the court that Doe had asked to call it off.

“He said, ‘This happened almost 30 years ago, I don’t want to put her on the stand,’ ” Chapman explained, adding that they would object to Dawn’s testimony anyway, on the grounds that it has no bearing on Doe’s condition or whether he poses a present threat.

“When he brought the suit, it was never part of the discussion, certainly never for us or the ACLU, that the victim would ever get drawn into the case at all,” Chapman said.

Dawn sees it differently. She is adamant that Doe remains a threat to children, and speculates that he and his lawyers called off the hearing for no other reason than they knew they would lose.

“Once they found out that I came to New Hampshire a month ago and poured my heart out about what happened to me, things changed real quick. (They) said, ‘Oh, we don’t want to bring her into this, we don’t want to hurt her feelings,’ ” she said mockingly. “Really? Cause this little girl’s feelings aren’t hurt anymore. I’m a grown woman, and I’m not afraid to talk about it.”

Dawn claims the abuse was far more pervasive than the convictions reflected. She said Doe sexually abused her thousands of times over a decade, starting as a toddler and continuing well into her adolescence. That was on top of constant verbal and physical abuse, according to her account.

Dawn said she disclosed the sexual abuse to a babysitter when she was 5, when the family lived in Manchester, but nothing happened. She said she told Hooksett police about it again when the criminal case opened, but that they told her it was out of their jurisdiction.

“As an adult now, I am mortified that he has two counts against him and nothing else, and he wants free housing from the state,” she said. “And I have to pay this price. I have to come back and pay this price. I have to be the one that speaks up for myself because 20, 30 years ago no one would.”

Doe still has a potential path forward. If he can prove that the Supreme Court’s decision effectively lifted his status as a lifetime registrant – because he can now petition periodically to get off the list – then he will become eligible for subsidized housing under federal law.

Chapman asked the superior court last week to acknowledge just that. State prosecutors said on Friday they would submit an objection by next week.

Widespread implications

Victim advocates and county prosecutors have a potentially bigger concern. The Department of Safety verified Friday that there are hundreds of publicly registered sex offenders whose convictions predate the registry’s inception.

State Trooper Rebecca Eder-Linell, who manages the registry, was unavailable to provide an exact estimate this week, but Modigliani and assistant safety commissioner Earl Sweeney said the decision has widespread implications.

“It is safe to say that a substantial number, probably several hundred, of the offenders on the registry were placed there once the law was passed, because it made them subject to the requirement,” Sweeney wrote in an email. “This seems to infer that they would be entitled to a Superior Court hearing and would bear the burden of convincing the court that they have not only complied with the sentencing requirements and is no longer a continuing risk.”

Two of six county attorneys who responded to calls Friday said they have received a petition similar to Doe’s since the Supreme Court’s decision, and nearly all the others said they are expecting them.

“I think you’ll see a lot more of these filings,” said Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway, whose office received one of the petitions from an offender with similar qualifications to Doe. That eventually went before a judge and was granted, Hathaway said, despite his objection.

The same thing happened in Cheshire County, according to the county attorney there, Chris McLaughlin. His office did not object, however, because the offender was a teenager when he committed the crime and his offenses were not aggravated, McLaughlin said.

Chapman acknowledged that the Doe case opens the door for other offenders. But he was skeptical that most would actually apply.

“In theory they’re right,” he said. “As a practical matter, there probably aren’t that many people.” ..Source.. by Jeremy Blackman

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