Save Many southwest Missouri residents are seeking to better understand how convicted rapist and murder suspect David Zink, 41, of Osceola, slipped back into society so quietly after his release from federal prison earlier this year. Zink is charged in the abduction and murder of Amanda Morton, 19, of Strafford, whose body was found buried in a shallow grave near Osceola on July The question on many people's minds is whether the public is notified sufficiently when a convicted sex offender such as Zink moves into the community.
Zink is a registered sex offender in St. Clair County, but that did not initially make him a suspect in Morton's death.
Witness tips were what led law enforcement to arrest Zink, not simply that his name was on a list of convicted sex offenders. Most people do not suspect that their neighbor or their child's favorite teacher might have been convicted of a sex crime. Amanda Morton had no way of knowing her alleged killer was a registered offender because Missouri does not require law enforcement agencies to notify the public.
Missouri requires 'passive' notification Instead, Missouri is considered a "passive" notification state, in that it requires residents or organizations to actively seek out sex offender registration information themselves. Sixteen other states allow such access, according to the Center for Sex Offender Management. Although this method is cost effective and less resource demanding, the lists do not distinguish between high- and low-risk offenders, nor will everyone who is vulnerable seek to get a copy of their county's list.
Other states, however, take a more aggressive approach to notification. Thirteen states require law enforcement to notify organizations or individuals at risk from a convicted offender, and 20 states require broad community notification. Who must register in Missouri? Missouri's sex offender registration program took effect in , following then-President Bill Clinton's signing of Megan's Law in Megan's Law is modeled after a New Jersey statute requiring that residents be notified about convicted sex offenders living in close proximity.
According to the CSOM, some states give law enforcement officials broad discretion to make the final decision on notification. Several states assess the risk of individual offenders before notification. The CSOM said 12 states use risk assessment instruments and six states use committees to assess an offender's level of notification. Federal law does not require the registration of juvenile sex offenders. However, states can require such registration on their own. Missouri is not among the 28 states that require the registration of juvenile offenders, according to the CSOM.
Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Iowa are the only neighboring states to Missouri that require registering juvenile offenders, although some counties in Kansas also include juveniles on their lists.
According to Missouri's registered sex offenders law, those convicted since July 1, , of being a predatory or persistent sexual offender or convicted of sexually victimizing a person under 18 years of age must register with the sheriff's department of the county in which they reside for the duration of their lives every 90 days and also each year in the month of their birthday.
Convicted offenders are notified upon release that they must register and are given 10 days to do so. An offender who fails to register is guilty of a class A misdemeanor. An offender who commits a second or subsequent violation is guilty of a class D felony.
Of those, live in a five-county region made up of Webster, Greene, Polk, Dallas and Christian counties. Unfortunately, Byrd said Missouri does not operate a database that has percentages for the different types of sex crimes the registrants were convicted of committing. To obtain such information or statistics, an interested person would have to go to each individual sheriff's department in Missouri to request a copy of the registered sex offenders list. Missouri's law applies equally to offenders already living in the state and offenders who have relocated to the state.
An offender who has moved into Missouri has 10 days to register with the county of his or her new residence. Counties must verify addresses Because the state conducts no official address verification process on its own, counties are required to verify the information given to them by the registrant.
Counties also are required to send in the offender's registration card to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, which maintains the state's criminal records. Polk County has 26 registrants. The sexual offender list will soon be available on the sheriff's department's Web site, polkcountymosheriff. Dallas County has 20 names on its list and Christian County has In each of these counties, citizens must appear in person to obtain a copy of the sexual offender list.
Webster County has 46 registrants on its sexual offenders list. Anyone can obtain a copy of this list by bringing a written request to the sheriff's department. According to Sheriff Ron Worsham, plans are to post the list online when the county has a Web site. Greene County has individual registrants and its list is available on the county's Web site at www. Does registering reduce repeat offenses? Registering the addresses of convicted sexual offenders has remained in controversy for several years, with arguments for and against the availability of the lists being made by politicians, law enforcement, civil rights groups and citizens.
Some opponents of the law fear the lists could be and may have been misused by the courts in the convictions of people who did not commit a violent sex crime or victimize a child, but rather had committed a consensual sex act. Statutory rape charges involving a consenting older teenager or sodomy and indecency charges between consenting adults are among those convictions that opponents seek to clarify and remove from the lists of registered offenders.
While the number of sex crime convictions may have gone up during recent years, the number of actual incidents may not.
Increased reporting of the offenses by victims has helped lawmakers establish guidelines to register the offenders. The recidivism rate of convicted sex offenders differs depending on the type of offenses committed, and several studies on the subject have inconclusive results, according to the CSOM.
In addition, recidivism rates may be underreported due to victims being too afraid or ashamed to report sexual assaults. However, a study conducted in by the Washington State Institute for Public Police said that offenders released with notification to their community appeared to be arrested for new crimes more quickly than similar offenders who were released without any community notification.