REALITY CHECK: EXPOSING THE SEX OFFENDER LOOPHOLE
Robert Howard is accused of killing 12-year-old Naomi Jones in Pensacola. Howard, a convictedrapist, was a registered sex offender in Escambia County, Alabama, but investigators say he wasstaying at the apartment complex in Florida where Naomi lived. In this Reality Check, Local 15'sAndrea Ramey uncovers a loophole that allows sex offenders to travel freely and finds out howinvestigators keep track of them all.
It's a hot muggy Thursday morning in June, and these volunteers are checking out this shack inIrvington to make sure the 53 year old sex offender who molested a 14 year old boy is staying wherehe says he is.
I need to check your ID and your driver's license, said John Lamb. That's all we needed thankyou.
While here, we notice kids on the property.
What if there's kids? asked Local 15's Andrea Ramey.
Well, I'm going to put that in my notes here, replied Lamb.
Can he have children here? asked Ramey.
He's not supposed to have any other than his, said Lamb.
Lamb and Phillip Smith are part of the Mobile County Sheriff's Office volunteer corps.
We're out three days a week, said Lamb.
They, along with 18 other volunteers, do random spot checks of sex offenders. Today, we'refollowing them along. When we get to this Chunchula home, a gate blocks off the driveway.
This is Phillip Smith with the Mobile County Sheriff's Office. If you're home please walk up tothe gate, said Smith in a voicemail to the offender.
They leave a note, instructing him to check in.
There are more than 700 sex offenders in Mobile County, and in addition to the spot checks,offenders are required to check in quarterly at a kiosk at the sheriff's office. Tracking homelessoffenders is a challenge.
The only way we can really track them is make them come in once a week and keep us apprised asto where they are staying, whether it be at a shelter or if they're living on the street, they tellus they're living on the street, said Sgt. Joe Mahoney.
In Mobile County right now, there are at least 12 sex offenders investigators have no idea wherethey are. A third of them are homeless.
But in the case of Naomi Jones, the suspect Robert Howard, was considered a compliant sexoffender in Alabama. In fact, the Escambia County Sheriff's Office says the day after Naomi'sdisappearance, Howard came to the department to do his quarterly check in. Chief Deputy MikeLambert believes Howard was taking advantage of a loophole in Alabama's sex offender laws thatallow them to be away from their homes for up to 72 hours without telling anyone.
Here is a law that needs to be changed. Here's a loop hole here that allows a sex offender upto three days without reporting, said Child Advocacy Center Executive Director Pat Guyton.
Guyton says it is vital we know where sex offenders are because it's estimated up to half willsexually abuse again.
Sex offenders have a great recidivism rate, said Guyton.
Guyton believes offenders should check in if they're going to spend the night somewhere besidestheir registered address and report it in if they leave the state.
Otherwise, these people can move back and forth across state lines, just like this guy did andthe people of Florida have no idea they have a registered sex offender living in apartment withsomeone and no one in the apartment knows it either, said Guyton.
We told local lawmakers about this loophole, and there appears to be interest in addressing thisissue next legislative session. We will follow-up to see if the laws changes.
Message from Executive Director Laura A. Ahearn: Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime VictimsCenter provides prevention education, advocacy, counseling and other valuable support services tochild and adult victims of sexual assault and to all victims of violent crime. Please visit ourwebsite at www.parentsformeganslaw.org for news, information and resources in your community.