Friday, February 16, 1996
Molesters only deserve life in prison

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Megan Kanka had seven candles on her birthday cake in 1993. That same year, Zachary Snider had 10.

They never heard anyone sing ''Happy Birthday'' to them again.

Before their next birthdays, Megan and Zachary were dead, killed by child molesters in their neighborhoods. In Megan's case, the guy lived across the street.

In both cases, the killers had prior convictions for molesting children. And nobody in either neighborhood knew about them in advance.

The deaths of Megan and Zachary prompted their home states to name laws after them.

In New Jersey, ''Megan's Law'' calls for warnings to be issued in writing to a community when a sex offender moves into the neighborhood.

In Indiana, ''Zachary's Law'' created a public registry where anyone can check on the whereabouts of a convicted sex offender.

Ohio has no such law. It can't wait much longer.

Young lives are at risk. Worried parents should be able to tell their kids a bad person has moved into the neighborhood.

Law needed

This week's events in Reading point up the need for better laws to keep track of these criminals.

When a paroled child molester moved to the tidy community, he registered with the police, as is required by law. But he did not go public with his past. Other people did, however. A school superintendent wrote letters to district parents. An anonymous group of ''Concerned Citizens'' outed him via leaflets and whispers.

It's a sloppy way to protect our children, but the only way available without a law that makes public notification possible. One such law aimed at child molesters is in the works in Ohio.

If passed into law, House Bill 180 would make it possible for authorities to alert a community to the presence of a convicted sex offender. That's all the frightened people of Reading want.

It also calls for the death sentence or life imprisonment without any chance of parole if a sex offender kills his victim. I vote for that part, too.

My problem with the bill is this: It proposes that sex offenders who don't kill can be sentenced to an indefinite jail term of no less than two years.

That's no good. Nothing about child molestation is indefinite. It is an unspeakable act. It is not a crime of passion. It is inhuman behavior committed by sub-humans who should be put away for life. No ifs, ands or buts. No second chances.

I know this goes against America's forgiving nature and the current scales by which we as a society weigh crimes. Life for selling certain quantities of drugs. Parole for raping a child. That's disgusting.

Some support

The man in Reading has his supporters. In newspaper articles and TV reports even some of his new neighbors say: Nobody's perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. He deserves a second chance.

This man kidnapped a little girl and sodomized her. What second chance does she have to be free of that attack? None.

He was sentenced to life in prison. But he had an opportunity for parole. And he took it. He received counseling and treatment. After 11 years in jail, he was out.

In my book, he should still be in. And never ever be let out.

That way, no one would have to worry about him registering with the police and then having them go to the expense, time and trouble of notifying the proper authorities. He could change his name and identity all he wants. We'd still know where he is. Behind bars.

House Bill 180 is a step in the right direction. If there's a remote chance this piece of legislation will save lives, pass it. The last thing anyone wants is for a young life to be lost and a family to be destroyed. It's too little too late for a community to say after the fact: ''We didn't know he had a record.''

Notice that House Bill 180 has no name. It's not ''Megan's Law'' or ''Zachary's Law.'' It's a no-name bill. No victim is attached to it.

Pray that the state of Ohio takes fast action. So none of our children will be remembered by a bill that might have saved their lives.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.