The double murder of a registered sex offender and his wife has at least one group questioning whether it is truly in the public’s best interest to publish the addresses of sex offenders online.
Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc. released a statement last week asking Gov. Nikki Haley to order that offenders’ addresses be removed from public view until the state legislature considers a more comprehensive solution.
“Vigilante murderers who target those on public sex offender registries need only turn on their computers and enter a zip code to get an instant list of potential victims along with their addresses,” the statement said. The group’s executive director Brenda Jones said she worries the publicity from this particular case may encourage other vigilantes to take the law into their own hands.
Union County Sheriff’s deputies say 30-year-old Jeremy Moody told them he killed 59-year-old Charles “Butch” Parker and his wife because Parker was listed on South Carolina’s registry. Parker’s name and address were posted due to a 1991 criminal sexual conduct conviction, according to the Union County Sheriff’s Department. His wife was not listed. Union County Sheriff David Taylor said Moody was also planning to kill another unidentified offender when deputies arrested him Tuesday.
But law enforcement officials say the benefits of the online database outweigh the potential risks. South Carolina Sheriffs’ Association executive director Jeff Moore said the registry helps make the public aware of offenders in their area, especially if a certain neighborhood has an exceptionally high number living there.
“I’m happy my daughter has the ability to go to a website and determine whether or not there are sex offenders in an apartment complex that she’s going to be moving into,” he told South Carolina Radio Network.
South Carolina’s laws are strict in this area. Once an offender is listed, they can never come off the registry no matter how much time has elapsed or how minor the offense. Moore said many other states do allow an offender to appeal their listing after a certain amount of time has passed.
Moore said this is the first recorded instance of a South Carolinian being targeted and murdered due to the registry since its creation in 1994. More than 12,000 names are currently listed, according to data from the State Law Enforcement Division. “This is horrendous and deplorable, but it’s only one (case),” Moore said. However, Moore adds there have other situations where an offender was harassed or threatened.
But Jones said at least 37 people nationwide have been killed by vigilantes targeting registered or accused sex offenders since 1991. That number includes Gretchen Parker, whom deputies say was murdered because of her marriage to Charles Parker.
She said “80 to 90 percent” of those listed on registries are not considered threats to the general public, and that high-risk offenders or child molesters actually make up a “very small number.”
“Most of us have done something we regret,” she told South Carolina Radio Network. “Those who have committed a crime have been tried, they’ve been convicted, they’ve served their time and they have been punished. A civilized society does not take and put those people on a hit list.”
Jones said South Carolina could consider changes such as only listing offenders publicly by their town or neighborhood, not their physical address. She said the state could also look at Maine, which created a tiered system in 2012 for 10-year, 25-year, and lifetime registrants based on the severity of their crime.