Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap

December 18, 2004

There is nothing funny about this week’s column.

James Simpson walked into my office last week, sat down across the table from me and said, “I am not a pedophile. But people are treating me like some kind of monster.”

I gave him a cup of coffee and grabbed a legal pad. Nearly six years ago, Simpson plead guilty to gross sexual assault. The incident involved a woman in her mid-20s who was staying with Simpson in his Saco apartment.

For his part, Simpson, 41, maintains that he is innocent of the crime. He says police took advantage of his diagnosed learning disability and persuaded him to talk without an attorney present.

But let’s assume that Simpson is guilty. He was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released in 2001 and remains today on probation. Any criminal activity could send him back to jail. Simpson’s story, however, is far from over.

I wonder what Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of The Scarlet Letter, would think of our state’s Sexual Offender Registry, now available for inspection by anyone with a mouse pad and a modem. I agreed to tell Simpson’s story if only to raise questions about what lengths we will go to in order to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

According to Maine’s sex offender registry website, use of that information to threaten, intimidate or harass any listed offender could result in criminal prosecution. Oh really?

Tell that to Simpson, who was let go from his job at a fast-food restaurant once the list bearing his name was highly publicized. In the last few weeks, Simpson was told by workers at his child’s daycare center that he could no longer pick up his child. “Go away,” they said. “We don’t want you around children.”

But Simpson never harmed any children. His crime was reported by an adult transient who asked if she could stay with him. It doesn’t matter, however. Simpson is now on the same list with registered pedophiles.

And really, who has the time to check all the details? We have Christmas shopping to do and bottled water to buy for that next big snowstorm. If he’s on the list, watch out. He’s bad and he’s in your neighborhood. Put up an electric fence, buy a gun and monitor his every move.

According to the Klass Kids Foundation’s website, sex offender registration laws are necessary because (among things): “The privacy interests of persons convicted of sex offenses are less important than the government’s interest in public safety.”

The Klass Foundation was created after Polly Hannah Klass, a 12-year-old girl from California, was abducted from her home, brutally tortured, raped and murdered. It was a horrendous crime committed by a man who showed absolutely no remorse at his sentencing hearing.

In fact, I remember watching that hearing as the murderer taunted the victim’s father, sneering as he recalled his vicious crime. “She told me I did it to her like you did,” the monster said to Polly’s father. It took a battalion of sheriff’s deputies to restrain Mr. Klass.

Personally, I think justice would have been served if the deputies let go of Mr. Klass and allowed him to kill the monster while the nation watched on CNN.

Make no mistake, there is evil in the world. As a reporter, I am faced with it every day. And my wife, a child protective worker with the Department of Human Services, can tell you stories that will make your toes curl.

George Orwell’s classic novel Animal Farm presents us with an analogy of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Initially, all the farm animals were equal. But as time went on, their basic laws, written on the side of a barn, were surreptitiously altered. “Some animals are more equal than others,” the law now read.

Imagine what Hitler could have done with the power of the Internet. And does it strike you as strange that the young man who killed a 79-year-old Biddeford woman so he could use her car and write checks on her account will not be on any kind of list when he is released from prison.

That murderer, somehow, is not as much of a threat to society as James Simpson. And what about those who committed sex offenses before June 30, 1992? They are not subject to being on the list.

Our constitution provides that we will not use “cruel and unusual punishment.” I apparently missed the part where that fundamental tenet of our society was altered to “unless you commit a sex crime.”

Let’s face facts. This new law helps us to sleep at night and buy more SUVs. If we want to give a life sentence to someone convicted of a sex offense then so be it. But that would cost too much money. So let’s release the offenders, keep taxes down and subject people who have already “done their time” to the constant haranguing of being lumped together as the worst of the worst. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Is it any wonder that the Klass Foundation provides a handy link to our nation’s Homeland Security Department? Democracy comes at a price, folks. Apparently, we’re too cheap, complacent or stupid to pay it.

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