COLUMBUS — Sheila Vaculik told an Ohio Senate committee that she doesn’t know whether her daughter, Sierah Joughin, would be alive today if her family had known someone with a violent criminal record was living nearby.
But she argued today that law enforcement should have had that tool when Ms. Joughlin, of Metamora, set out on her bicycle the evening of July 19 for her boyfriend’s house. She never arrived.
Family, friends, and police accessed the state’s sex offender registry list and drove past homes hoping for some sign of Ms. Joughin.
“The sex offender registry that was put into place by legislators worked just like it was meant to that night,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Law enforcement had contact with the offenders in our area, within hours after Sierah went missing.
“But unfortunately, the man indicted for this crime was not on any list or registry,” she said.
Family and friends then asked for a list of violent offenders.
“We were told no such database exists,” said Howard Ice, Ms. Sierah’s uncle and her employer while she was interning in human resources at Ice Industries.
“The information is out there, but it is in every courthouse across the state, listed by case number, not by criminal,” he said. “Unbelievably, even the FBI did not have access to this kind of centralized information.”
Senate Bill 67, sponsored by Sens. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) and Cliff Hite (R., Findlay), would require Attorney General Mike DeWine to develop such a database by the end of this year. But it leaves many decisions to the attorney general as to how “Sierah’s Law” would work.
It remains unclear whether Ms. Joughin’s accused killer, James D. Worley, 57, would have had to register under a similar law because his prior abduction conviction in Lucas County occurred 26 years earlier.
Five other states maintain registries of the whereabouts of offenders with certain violent pasts. Ohio already maintains registries for sex offenders and arsonists.
Worley, of rural Delta, faces trial on Jan. 16 and potentially the death penalty in the abduction and murder of Ms. Joughin, 20, who was about to enter her junior year at the University of Toledo. Her body was found in a shallow grave off County Road 7 three days after the abduction. She’d been handcuffed and died of asphyxiation.
The grave was found after someone in Fulton County law enforcement remembered the criminal past of a local “strange, reclusive man,” as Mr. Ice put it.
“Would my daughter have been found Wednesday alive instead of Friday in a shallow grave seven miles from our home?” Ms. Vaculik asked. “I will never know the answer to that question, and that is the subject of my nightmares."
Worley faces charges of murder, kidnapping, abduction, aggravated robbery, possession of criminal tools, tampering with evidence, abuse of a corpse, and possession of weapons while prohibited from doing so.
Indiana, Illinois, Montana, Kansas, and Oklahoma have violent-offender registries, but they differ in which crimes qualify and the process as to how registrants may seek to be removed from the lists.
Under the bill, Mr. DeWine would determine what crimes would be included, what information would be maintained, how the on-line registry would be accessed, and whether it should be merged with existing sex offender and arson registries.
Sen. Peggy Lehner (R., Kettering), a committee member, questioned whether a registry accessible to law enforcement rather than to the general public would meet the goal. The sex offender registry is publicly available. The arson registry is not.
Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said he would prefer that it be public, “just from the standpoint that knowledge is power and people should know.”
“It is, but sometimes people misuse that knowledge,” Ms. Lehner said. “It seems to me what your goal here is for law enforcement to actively search, and that would be served well by just having the registry without potentially causing isolation…You know what we could end up doing. We could end up creating crime in and of itself.”
The bill lists several crimes that “may” be included — aggravated murder, murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, abduction, and conspiracy or attempted conspiracy to commit such crimes.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.
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