Most parents have long known they can look up the state sex offender registry to see if any convicted offenders are living in their neighborhoods. It’s supposed to add an extra layer of security, but the Troubleshooters found that’s not always the case.
Some offenders, even child predators, aren’t on the list at all, and some experts want a change.
“I don’t know how this could happen. Why didn’t we know about this?”
That’s what an angry mother told the Troubleshooters about 68-year-old William Motta, of Clinton, who was convicted this past December of first-degree sexual assault and unlawful restraint after targeting her child.
It turns out, it wasn’t his first offense. Motta served time for sexually assaulting two other children. He was convicted of second-degree sexual assault on a 6-year-old in in 1976. Then, in 1984, Motta was convicted of third-degree assault on an 8-year-old.
But he was never listed in the sex offender registry.
“For life, I can’t apply anywhere and get a good job. Nobody wants sex offenders working there,” said another convicted sex offender, who asked not to be identified. “I can’t use Internet, I can’t be around kids. I can’t be around schools parks, malls anything.”
The offender, who we'll call Thomas, is listed in the registry.
When Thomas was 16, he was convicted of third-degree sexual assault following an incident in a mall bathroom. The police report says he and a friend locked two 13-year-old girls inside and intimidated one into performing a sex act.
Years later, Thomas still tells a different story.
“We saw some girls, we talked to them for a little while, we went to a discreet location, and they performed sexual acts on us,” claimed Thomas. “Once we left that location, they met up with their boyfriends.”
Despite his conviction, he believes he doesn’t belong on the sex registry with rapists and child molesters.
“What am I really guilty of? What am I sitting in here for?" asked Thomas. “And the only thing I can say is performing sexual acts in a public place.”
It’s been almost 10 years. Thomas said he has a wife and family of his own now and regrets the actions of that day, despite maintaining that they were consensual.
“I’m not a threat at all,” said Thomas. “I am married, I have kids [and] a family.”
Thomas and William Motta are just two examples of what Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane and others believe is a big disparity in who gets listed on the sex offender registry.
“There are people on it who may not need to be on it, and there are people not on it who may need to be on it,” said Kane.
Motta is not, because the registry does not include people convicted of sex crimes in Connecticut before 1988.
However, some sex offenders who negotiate their punishment and can plead out.
“The victim just is not capable of going through a trial,” said Kane. “Prosecutors, because of situations like that, are willing to reduce the charge, or change the charge in order to get a plea, and get a person on probation.”
Kane said it would take too long to try every case, so the plea deals, although upsetting for victims, may be best.
Victims advocate Laura Cordes believes the registry gives the public a false sense of security.
“Not all sex offenders are on the registry,” said Cordes. “There are so many who have never been caught, who have never been convicted, and we need to be on the lookout for people who have maybe isolated access to our children.”
Still, state police stand by it.
“It’s an education to go on the sex offender website and take a look and see the people who are on there. Use it for your benefit your safety,” said state police spokesman Lt. Paul Vance.
The sex offender registry does contain important information, but is it enough to really keep the public informed? Lawmakers said they are trying to come up with new solutions.
“We have to monitor these people some way, “said State Rep. Themis Klarides. “There is no perfect way. That is why, every year, we get different bills and we get involved in different conversations about it.”
Klarides proposed a bill to require sex offenders to provide government agencies with more information, like their phone numbers, what kind of car they drive and where they work.
It’s one of five bills dealing with sex offenders being proposed this session.
A different bill by State Sen. Cathy Osten would create a new tiered system.
“It’s not really just about the crime, although that is certainly a piece of it,” said Osten. "But, you also want to capture those people who might re-offend so that people really know what they are looking at when they are looking at the sex offender registry.”
Still, lawmakers don’t have an answer for dealing with the sex offenders like Motta, whose past is buried.
“You know, how far back would you go?” asked Klarides. “Would you say it should be five years before 1988, should it should it be 10 years? Should it be forevermore? I mean, I don't know."
However, they do recognize the need for change.
“There maybe should be a mechanism to get people off the registry and not make it impossible for people who are no longer a danger to hold jobs and live in the community,” said Kane.
In Motta’s case, he will be put on the registry and is serving seven more years in prison. He will also be on special parole for 10 years in connection with his latest case.