Registry of sex offenders improved

Evans case showed flaws in state list

Sun follow-up

November 24, 2006|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

The address was both misspelled and outdated. And although registered letters sent there came back to the Maryland Sex Offender Registry program unopened, no one went looking for Carl Preston Evans Jr. until he was wanted in the July 2005 killing of his 13-year-old stepdaughter.

Now, officials say, they have a far better handle on the locations of the rapists, child molesters and other sexual offenders living in Maryland communities.

"There's been just a little more diligence on everyone's part," said David P. Wolinski, a retired police officer who manages the Maryland Sex Offender Registry program. "The Evans case managed to push us along a little more."

When the Evans case shed light on flaws within the registry, officials acknowledged that one in five sex offenders might not live at the addresses listed for them in the state database designed to inform communities of their whereabouts.

Local law enforcement agencies responded by stepping up their efforts to check on sex offenders, and the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services has revamped its methods of tracking sex offenders when they are released from prison and any arrests that might send them back to jail.

The combined efforts have reduced the number of noncompliant registered sex offenders from about 800 in August 2005 to about 340 last month. That amounts to 7.6 percent of Maryland's 4,495 registrants, according to the state.

"It's a tremendous improvement," said Russell P. Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center. "When the flashlight was there and the heat was on, the state and the federal government tried to come up with better mechanisms of tracking these offenders and making sure they registered.

"But sometimes," he said, "when the light is off, things don't continue. So I think in some regards, only time will tell whether those changes will make a difference."

Evans, 36, was sentenced this week to life in prison without parole for stabbing, strangling and beating to death his stepdaughter before setting her body and her family's Essex rowhouse on fire to cover up the killing.

The Baltimore County judge who sentenced him tacked on two consecutive 15-year prison terms for the arson and for attempted second-degree murder for leaving his daughter, then 7 months old, in the burning house.

After Evans' arrest 11 days after the fire, police, gubernatorial candidates, state legislators and other politicians made a priority of trying to address problems with the sex offender registry and improving methods of informing communities when such offenders move into their neighborhoods.

In April, the state developed an automated telephone notification system to alert residents when a sex offender moves into a community or is no longer in compliance with the registry's requirements.

The automated call directs users to the Maryland Sex Offender Registry Web site at www.dpscs.state.md.us/onlineservs/sor/, where they can find the sex offender's name, age, address, booking photo, convictions and compliance status.

As of last month, about 4,900 people had registered for the notification alerts, said Karen V. Poe, a spokeswoman with the state's public safety department. Because people can register more than one ZIP code - for their home and children's day-care provider, for example - those nearly 5,000 registrants account for 41,762 notifications.

In June, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. signed into law a sex offender initiative that includes mandatory sentences for defendants convicted of sex crimes against children and requires sex offenders to register with local police twice a year rather than once and to have their photographs updated annually.

The state joined with Towson University's Center for Geographic Information Studies to unveil an online mapping system that allows people to pinpoint sex offenders living within a certain radius of their homes, day care centers, schools and offices. That service began in August.

The state also distributed $800,000 in federal grant money to local police and sheriff's departments to keep tabs on registered sex offenders and make sure they were living where the state database says they were. The money was used to pay for officers' overtime and to upgrade computer equipment.

While local police went door-to-door, finding and verifying the addresses of sex offenders living in their jurisdictions, state police fanned out across Maryland looking for the more elusive registrants who didn't "fit neatly into one county," said Wolinski, who manages the registry.

Authorities crossed hundreds of questionable addresses and noncompliant sex offenders off the list. Of the 344 registrants in violation of some aspect of the registry's requirements as of Oct. 27, police had issued arrest warrants for 156.

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