Monday, March 10, 2008

A Watchful Eye

By Matt Elofson

Most people don’t like to ask permission to do things, especially when it means getting approval of where they can make their home or earn a living.

Those who choose to commit a sex crime take the chance of losing those freedoms many of us take for granted.

A former Wiregrass woman says convicted sex offenders deserve to have these rights removed after committing a sexual assault. Three Alabama men have been convicted over the past decade for molesting or raping the woman’s three children.

“They invade someone’s privacy taking what’s most important to them,” she said. “They take the victim’s identity away from them.”

She has an 11-year-old girl, a 12-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl who she says successfully testified in a Dothan man’s trial in the fall of 2007. Heath Jerome Miller was convicted by a Houston County jury of rape of her child, and was sentenced to life in prison. James Howard Anderson, 55, of Selma, was also convicted of first-degree sex abuse of her one of her children, and he was released in 2004, according to the state sex offender registry Web site. The third man was a juvenile at the time of the arrest.

“If you do the crime, you’ve got to do the time, which includes warning other people of what you’ve done,” she said.

The woman, whose identity the Dothan Eagle did not reveal because her children were the victim’s of sexual assaults, was referred to the Eagle by the Houston County District Attorney’s Office. After the third man was convicted for sexually molesting her children, she encouraged her friends and neighbors to regularly check who lives in their neighborhoods.

Each convicted sex offender must obey several strict rules of registration to the city, county and state government after they are released from prison or start their probation.

“The most important thing about these sex offenders is knowing where they are, and that’s to protect the community,” said Kirke Adams, the district attorney for Dale and Geneva counties. “A large percentage of sex offenders will reoffend, because it’s a disease, and they’re sick.”
Adams said authorities have seen an increase in those violations of the Alabama Community Notification Act by convicted sex offenders. But he said the increase could be attributed to closer monitoring by area law enforcement. Violation of the notification act is a Class C felony, which includes a punishment of one to 10 years in prison.

“It is beneficial because at least we know where they are, and they’re not living around schools and day care places where children are,” Adams said. “It’s the same defense every time. I’m really not living there, I was just visiting or I just didn’t understand it.”

Kent Stewart, 41, of Ozark, recently pleaded guilty to violating the notification act, along with another sex crime. Stewart was sentenced to community corrections and then committed another sex offense. He was charged and convicted of taking a child from a playground back to a nearby apartment, where he sexually molested her. He was sentenced last month to serve 85 years in prison for the rape, and an additional 15 years for the failure to notify.

“He was living somewhere where he wasn’t registered,” Adams said. “When this occurred I feel confident he was violating the act again.”


The Dothan Police Department created a special program to keep the city’s convicted sex offenders in check.

“It gives us an opportunity to keep track of them,” Dothan Police Investigator Sgt. Brian Cherry said. “It helps us protect the community and helps us keep up with the sex offender.”

Through the Sexual Offender Accountability Program, the department monitors 69 sex offenders on a monthly basis, including 47 of those who live in the city. The other 22 offenders only work in the city or were youthful offenders.

Each adult sex offender is assigned an officer to monitor the offender’s activity, which includes verifying their home address, any employment change and whether any children live with them. A convicted sex offender can not live within 2,000 feet of a school or day care facility.

“In the past, we did spot checks, but now it gives us more knowledge of what the sex offender is doing and his whereabouts,” said Cherry, who serves as an investigator in the department’s juvenile division.

Investigators within the program have helped find and charge 10 people since Jan. 1, who police say violated the Community Notification Act, including Willie Gilmore, 58, who was arrested on Feb. 11 for two violations.

Gilmore was charged with failure to notify for a change of residence and living at a prohibited address, according to Dothan Police Investigator Clark Allums. Gilmore was living too close to a daycare when he moved to his sister’s home on South Park Avenue, which was near Ridgecrest Baptist Church Daycare and Childcare Network.

“He had moved within 2,000 feet of either day care, and that’s what’s considered a sensitive site,” Allums said.

Gilmore has not been convicted of violating the notification act, but he was convicted in 1978 of rape.

Earlier this year authorities arrested Aaron Howell, 68, shortly after the New Year and charged him with five counts of failure to properly register as a sex offender. Howell failed to properly register when he moved into Westside Terrace Health and Rehabilitation Center on Nov. 30, which is also located less than 1,600 feet from Houston Academy, police said. Police say he also sexually abused a woman at the center after he failed to notify about his move.
The violation of the state community notification act was discovered after an employee at the rehabilitation center viewed a sex offender Web site. Howell was previously convicted of molesting a 6-year-old girl in February 1993.

Sheriff’s investigators also charged him with three violations, including failure to include his offender status when he renewed his driver’s license and failure to complete his annual anniversary registration verification, along with his six-month verification. If a sex offender does not move or change occupation, they are required to register as a sex offender twice a year. Howell has not been convicted of any of those notification violations.

“The biggest problem we’re having is people coming from outside our city limits into the city,” Cherry said. “They committed the crime, and they are required to register. We’re locating them and we’re charging them.”

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