Tuesday, January 15, 2002

Bill would jail all sex offenders

Lawmakers seek mandatory imprisonment

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Anyone convicted of a sex crime in Kentucky would serve jail time under legislation set to be filed in the Kentucky Gen eral Assembly.

        The bill will be sponsored by Rep. Tom Kerr, D-Taylor Mill, and Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, and filed within several days. The Kentucky legislature is meeting in Frankfort but there are no assurances the bill will be heard or voted on before the session ends in early April.

        “There are a lot of bills already filed,” Mr. Kerr said during a Monday morning press conference. “We'll do what we can but we may have to wait until the next session” in 2003.

        The legislation was suggested by Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson, who said it stemmed from the case of Larry Howell.

        Mr. Howell is the Erlanger resident facing nine counts of sodomy after being accused of having sexual contact with at least 30 boys. He was shot Nov. 29 in the groin by a woman who says Mr. Howell molested her son.

        Mr. Howell is in the Kenton County Jail awaiting a preliminary hearing on the charges, scheduled for Wednesday.

        Mr. Edmondson said Mr. Howell was convicted of a

        sexual offense — distribution of obscene material to a minor — in August of 2000. But his sentence was just a $500 fine with no jail time, he said.

        “Had we had a law that required mandatory jail time, Howell would have been behind bars instead of free to molest kids,” Mr. Edmondson said Monday morning. “We did all we could. We gained a conviction. But the law just doesn't go far enough.”

        Probation and suspended sentences for sex offenders would also be prohibited under the law. Shock probation would still be available for convicted offenders who serve one month on a misdemeanor and two months on a felony.

        Mr. Kerr said because the bill is still being drafted, he was not sure what specific crimes or acts would be covered under the law, “but we want to make it as broad and far-reaching as possible.”

        He also said he wants to use the opportunity to review all the state's sexual abuse statutes, most of which were adopted in the 1970s, for possible updates.

        Harry Hellings, a prominent criminal defense attorney with an office in Covington, called the proposed law “absurd” and said supporters can likely expect a fight in Frankfort from the Kentucky Criminal Defense Association.

        “You have to adjust the sentence to every case,” Mr. Hellings said Monday. “You can't just across the board make a sentence of incarceration for everybody, because every case rises and falls on its own merits. And without evaluating the individual circumstances (of each case) this makes no sense.”

        Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said Ohio does not have a blanket mandatory jail time law for sex offenders except in some rape convictions.

        “Perhaps Ohio ought to look into that,” Mr. Allen said Monday. “But Hamilton County judges don't fool around with sex offenders, and in many cases when it's appropriate, they will give the maximum sentence.”

        Kenton County Police Detective Wayne Wallace said he thinks most law enforcement officers would welcome the law.

        “The rates of recidivism with respect to sex offenders certainly bear out that we need to incarcerate them,” Mr. Wallace said.

        Independence lawyer Eric Deters, who is challenging Mr. Edmondson in Kenton County's Republican primary in May, said the county attorney's office needs to do a better job prosecuting cases.

        “Larry Howell could have received 90 days for his (August 2000) conviction, but all he got was a fine,” Mr. Deters said.

        But Mr. Edmondson said Mr. Howell was found guilty and fined during a jury trial. “That's why we need this law.”


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