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1,800 Florida sex offenders can't be located


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The kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford has raised new concerns over how to track the more than 30,000 registered sex offenders and predators living in Florida.

 

BY JASON GROTTO AND LUISA YANEZ

 

[email protected]

 

One month before a registered sexual offender allegedly kidnapped, raped and murdered 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, Florida law enforcement agencies had lost track of at least 1,800 other sexual offenders statewide, according to a review of Florida's Sexual Offender/Predator Registry.

 

John Evander Couey, the man who would confess to killing Jessica, was not even listed as one of them because no one knew he wasn't living at his reported address and was staying near the Lunsfords.

 

The fact that Couey wasn't marked as missing raises questions not only about how aggressively the state tracks offenders known to be on the lam, but how many others have absconded and aren't noticed at all.

 

Couey was supposed to be living more than five miles from the Lunsford residence in Homosassa. Officials at the Citrus County Sheriff's Office said they discovered he was staying less than a block from the Lunsford's in his half-sister's mobile home -- only after they began interviewing sex offenders as part of their investigation into Jessica's disappearance.

 

Police found Jessica's body buried nearby after a three-week search.

 

''We can't do anything about Jessie's death now, but in the future we have to figure out a better way of knowing where these guys are,'' said Archie Lunsford, Jessica's grandfather.

 

The Herald obtained a copy of the sexual offender database in January and found 800 of those who were missing had committed lewd or lascivious acts against children while another 130 had been sentenced for sexual battery against minors under 16. Nearly all the remaining 870 committed sexual crimes against adults or teenagers over the age of 16.

 

Among those who fled: George Gonel, 46, a Broward County man who in 1991 was convicted of lewd and lascivious acts and sexual battery against a child. Also missing: Frederick Campbell, 45, of Miami-Dade County, who was sentenced in 1996 to 10 years supervision after attempting to sexually batter a minor. He absconded two years later and has yet to be found.

 

Mary Coffee, the supervisor of FDLE's Sexual Offender/Predator Unit, which maintains the registry, said the database is supposed to be a tool to alert residents of potentially dangerous people living in their neighborhoods and to assist law enforcement agencies with criminal investigations.

 

''It is absolutely a partnership between the state, the community and local law enforcement agencies,'' Coffee said. ``The registry is not something that is going to eliminate all sex offenses.''

 

But breakdowns in the system conjure up memories of other heinous crimes committed by sexual offenders who were supposed to be closely monitored.

 

Howard Steven Ault was a registered sexual offender on probation when the father of an 11-year-old girl in Lauderdale Lakes reported Ault tried to sexually assault her on New Year's Eve, 1995.

 

He wasn't arrested in that case until November 1996 -- and only after police brought him in to answer questions in yet another case: two missing sisters, age 7 and 11.

 

While in custody, he confessed to strangling the two sisters and hiding their bodies in the attic of his Fort Lauderdale apartment. Ault, 38, has been on Florida's Death Row since 2000.

 

The Herald spot-checked addresses given by more than a dozen registered sexual offenders in Miami-Dade County and found much of the information was accurate. But not all of it.

 

BAD ADDRESS

 

For example, Jos Lohuis, 40, of Miami, sentenced to five years in 1993 for sexual battery on a minor, kidnapping and robbery, is supposed to be living at 1780 SW Fifth St. -- an address he gave in March 2001.

 

But residents at the duplex said they've never heard of Lohuis.

 

According to the registry, a block away from Lohuis should be the home of another sexual offender, Pedro Gonzalez, 64. He is listed as living at 1834 SW Fifth St. But the address does not exist.

 

Most of the 15 addresses checked by The Herald were accurate, however. Angel Luis Pabon, 23, shares a small cottage behind a home in Little Havana with his family.

 

Pabon said his neighbors know of his criminal record. He was convicted of sexual battery on a victim under 10 and is on probation until 2014.

 

''My neighbors know I'm on probation. But finding work is hard,'' said the unemployed Pabon, who lives at 1537 SW 10th St.

 

Couey had a long criminal record that spanned nearly three decades. He has been arrested 26 times, including once in 1991 for exposing himself to a 5-year-old girl.

 

On Dec. 2, nearly three months before Jessica was abducted, a Citrus County judge issued a warrant for Couey's arrest because he failed to report to his probation officer.

 

NO ONE LOOKED

 

The officer sent a letter to the same address listed in the state's sexual offender database asking Couey to report for probation. He never responded. But when the judge issued the warrant, no one went looking for Couey -- or informed FDLE that a child sexual offender had absconded.

 

The Citrus County Sheriff's Office said the warrant was one of hundreds they have to work through every day.

 

In the aftermath of outrage over the state's failure to track Couey's movements, victims' rights advocates and state lawmakers are calling for changes to the way the state tracks sexual offenders.

 

''We've been pushing for lifetime supervision for these guys,'' said Laura Ahearn, director of Parents for Megan's Law, a national victims' rights organization focused on child sexual abuse. ``That way these people are monitored, and we'll know if something is wrong or if they aren't where they say they are.''

 

Under that scenario, most sexual offenders would have to report to a probation officer for the rest of their lives.

 

Rep. Charles Dean, a Citrus County Republican, plans to introduce legislation in the House that would require sexual offenders to wear a tracking device like an ankle bracelet.

 

''There is a loophole, a breakdown in the system,'' said Dean, who was the sheriff of Citrus County for 16 years. ``We must know where these people are and make sure that we enhance our ability to track them and be accountable for them once they are convicted of a sex crime.''

 

As the first state to post information and photographs of sex offenders on the Internet, Florida is considered a national model for its registry. Maintained by FDLE, the database contains more than 30,000 sexual offenders and predators.

 

But a database is only as good as the information in it. Even if the Lunsfords had checked it in the weeks before Jessica's disappearance, they wouldn't have known Couey was in the neighborhood. As far as law enforcement officials were concerned, he lived across town.

 

Because FDLE checks the whereabouts of sexual offenders only once a year, months could go by before the state discovers offenders like Couey -- who last verified his address on July 7, 2004 -- have skipped out.

 

WHO FLED

 

Sexual predators, who are violent or repeat offenders, are checked four times a year, while offenders on probation are supposed to be monitored by the Florida Department of Corrections. Still, 800 of the absconders in The Herald's review were on probation when they fled.

 

When FDLE discovers an offender has gone missing, they are supposed to contact local law enforcement agencies, which are responsible for chasing down absconders. Those who fail to register or remain at their registered address commit a third-degree felony.

 

But the sheer number of people in the registry can make that task daunting. In 1997, the year the Florida Legislature passed the Public Safety Information Act, which expanded the use of the registry and made it available online, there were fewer than 10,000 offenders on the list. Since then, the number has tripled.

 

Because most sexual offenders stay on the list for life, the registry will only continue to grow.

 

''The common denominator in all of these cases is you have a system with huge holes in it,'' said Attorney General Charlie Crist, who is helping push legislation that will give judges the power to re-incarcerate violent offenders who repeatedly violate probation. ``It seems to me one of the obvious solutions is to re-incarcerate these people.''

 

http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/11254114.htm

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Guest Fritz

Juanky

Fritz

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Das

Passion

 

All reside here... not that I am saying there are any coorelation or anything.

 

 

:peepwall

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723675[/snapback]

 

Correlation.

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