FOR POLICE, TRACKING SEX OFFENDERS CAN GET TRICKY (State law requires offenders to register their addresses. But when police go looking for them, sometimes they can’t be found.)
Tampabay.com/Robert Farley, Abbie Vansickle and Matthew Waite
Registered sexual predator Norris Edward Ellinwood strolled out of jail in March 2004,promising officials he was headed to the People That Love Church and mission in St.Petersburg. Ellinwood, 52, convicted of sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 15, nevershowed. When one of his victims called the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to find out if hewas still behind bars because she heard he might be in the area, she was told that officials haveno idea where he is. Ellinwood is one of six sexual predators in the five-county Tampa Bayarea who are missing. An additional 293 sex offenders are similarly lost toauthorities.
John Evander Couey, an unskilled laborer who went from job to job, registered an address inHomosassa on the state's web site. In 1991, he was convicted of exposing and fondling himselfin front of a girl in Kissimmee. But a few months ago, he left his registered address andmoved in with his half-sister, just 100 yards from the home of 9 year old Jessica Lunsford. Couey's probation officer sent him letters that went unanswered, but the officer never went out tohis registered address. Last month, Couey was arrested for kidnapping Jessica, then sexuallyassaulting and killing her.
Sex offender Douglas A. Burris, 48, of New York, was accused of molesting a 10 year old girlin June 2002 in Crystal River. Burris had been convicted of molesting a 6 year old girl inNew York. He had lived in Crystal River since December 2001, but never told authorities andwasn't on Florida's list. Tacked onto Burris' conviction was the felony of failing toregister. He was sent back to prison.
Gilbert Gonzales, 38, was designation a sex offender in 1995 after he was convicted offondling a child in Clearwater. He later moved to Pasco County, where he registered as a sexoffender in 2001. But Gonzales, who worked as a mechanic, moved to another Pasco addresswithout notifying officials. He was convicted of failing to register as a sex offender. While on probation for failing to register, Gonzales was accused of inappropriately touching a 9year old Port Richey girl several times at this home. The girl lived across the street fromhim. He was charged with capital sexual battery and violating probation, and was convicted in2004 of a lesser charge of lewd and lascivious molestation. He is now in prison.
Complicating the tracking challenge is a stated law that went into effect last July allowingoffenders and predators who have no place to live to register as transients. One is StevenBrady McAlister, 59, who registered in Pinellas County last month as a transient. He wasconvicted of attempting to molest a 9 year old girl in Arizona in 1985. Presumably, he isliving in Pinellas, but, deputies have no idea where.
Studies show only one in 10 sex offenders is ever caught and charged.