COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate could vote as soon as Wednesday on a pair of bills targeting perceived holes in current law that families of two murder victims contend may have played roles in the deaths of their loved ones.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday voted for Senate Bill 231. “Sierah’s Law” would create a statewide registry, exclusively for the eyes of law enforcement, of all offenders released from prison after committing certain violent crimes.
Sierah Joughin, 20, of Metamora, Ohio, disappeared on July 19, 2016 while riding her bicycle. Her family and local law enforcement have argued that their frantic search in the immediate aftermath could have been aided if they’d had access to a list of past violent offenders living nearby.
Her body was discovered three days later in a shallow grave off County Road 7. She’d been bound and gagged.
Last week a jury recommended that her rural Delta, Ohio, killer, James D. Worley, be sentenced to death. He will be formally sentenced on April 18. Worley had been convicted of abduction in Lucas County nearly three decades ago.
While the statewide database would not be a searchable Internet site similar to Ohio’s sex offender registry, much of the information that would be fed into it would be available to the public on a piecemeal basis at county sheriff’s offices.
“Knowledge is power …,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green). “This gives more knowledge to both sheriffs and local law enforcement and knowledge for the public. I think it’s a good balance.”
Also on Wednesday, the Senate may deal with a separate bill sought by the family of Reagan Tokes, formerly of Monclova Township. The 21-year-old Ohio State University senior was kidnapped, robbed, raped, and murdered by a recently released, registered sex offender, Brian Lee Golsby, despite the fact that he was wearing a GPS ankle monitor.
The device was not monitoring in real time.
Senate Bill 201, sponsored by Sens. Kevin Bacon (R., Columbus) and Sean O’Brien (D., Hubbard), is set for a vote by the Government Oversight and Reform Committee. The “Reagan Tokes Act” would reintroduce indefinite sentencing — with maximum and minimum sentences — for those convicted of certain felonies. Ohio law has required finite sentences since 1996.
The threat of longer sentences would be designed to encourage inmates to behave themselves behind bars and take advantage of opportunities to improve their chances of success upon release.
The proposed violent offender registry under Sierah’s Law is vague as to what form information available to the public in each of Ohio’s 88 county sheriffs’ offices would take. The public could not access the statewide database from county sheriff’s offices to do a general search of former violent offenders living in their area.
“I think at some point at some level this will certainly lead to a public database,” said Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. “That’s what we’ve seen with the history of databases before whether it’s in Ohio or across the country.
“It starts off with a more modest purpose and over time and a series of bills it morphs into something else where more and more information becomes available out there,” he said.
Sen. Cecil Thomas (D., Cincinnati) opposed the bill, arguing it would make it easier for criminals intent on revenge to find the addresses and other personal information of past offenders they’re targeting.
Generally, criminal records are public and available upon request at county courthouses on an individual basis. That information, however, is not usually compiled into a single list or searchable online database.
An offender could ask a judge to shield an address or other information from public view out of personal safety concerns.
Those sentenced after the law’s effective date for convictions of murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, second-degree felony abduction, or attempting or conspiring to commit these crimes would have to enroll in person with the local sheriff upon release from prison and re-enroll annually. Failure to do so would be a fifth-degree felony punishable by up to a year in prison.
The sheriff would then provide that information to the attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which would maintain the statewide law enforcement database. That information would include such things as the offender’s name, address, Social Security number, driver’s license number, car license plate number, place of employment or education, and tattoos and other physical characteristics.
Those convicted of equivalent crimes in other states must also enroll if they visit Ohio for three consecutive days or for 14 days total in a year. Most other states do not have a similar database.
The duty to re-enroll would presumably expire after 10 years unless a judge determines the former inmate has reoffended or violated restrictions.
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