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Published: Monday, 1/31/2005

Sex-crime offenders often tough to monitor

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Last of two parts

He went to prison at least three times for fondling children. Now Daniel Medina is looking at time behind bars once again.

This time, it's for disappearing from Lucas County.

The story of Lucas County's first registered sexual predator is a lesson in how tough it can be to force offenders to follow the requirements of Ohio's seven-year-old Sex Offender Registration and Notification law.

According to Ohio's online Sex Offender Registry, which also was set up by Ohio law, Medina, 49, lives in Napoleon in Henry County. The Lucas County sheriff's office reports Medina notified them in October that he was going to move to Napoleon.

Yet Lucas County also has issued a warrant for Medina's arrest and set a $100,000 bond because of his failure to appear for a Nov. 4 hearing, according to Lucas County Common Pleas Court records.

"Some people simply aren't going to obey the law," said State Sen. John Hagan (R., Alliance) who sponsored a bill signed Friday by Gov. Bob Taft that is expected to close several loopholes in Ohio's Sex Offender Law.

The original version of Ohio's law was passed in 1997 and is loosely based on Megan's Law, named after 7-year-old Megan Kanka, the New Jersey girl who was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in 1994 by a convicted child molester who was her neighbor.

Senator Hagan likens sex offenders who refuse to comply with registration requirements to repeat drunk drivers.

"We have great drunken-driving rules, pretty restrictive requirements in the amount of alcohol you can have to drive, ways to test [for impairment], and ways to prosecute, so that people know it's not a good idea to drink and drive in Ohio," the senator said.

But Senator Hagan said there's always someone willing to climb behind the wheel intoxicated - and sex offenders who don't want to comply with the law.

"You have some people who simply don't care," Senator Hagan said.

Ohio's Sex Offender law requires nearly all sex offenders to register with the sheriff's offices in the counties where they live, work, and attend school.

The law also requires the sheriff's office in most cases to notify neighbors and nearby schools of an offender's presence.

Since the law went into effect in 1997, a review by The Blade found nearly 100 cases have been filed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court against offenders who authorities said had failed to register on time or changed addresses without notifying the sheriff's office.

When they fail to comply in Lucas County, some offenders have been sent back to prison for six months or more. Others have been reminded of their duties and ordered by judges to be placed back on community control, The Blade review found.

But more than two dozen cases have been dismissed for a host of reasons, illustrating the difficulty in prosecuting such offenses.

Last month, at least 17 of Lucas County's convicted sex offenders had registered 105 17th St. in Toledo as their permanent address. That's the Cherry Street Mission, one of the city's busiest homeless shelters.

Lucas County Deputy Sheriff Ernie Lamb, who filed most of Lucas County's failure-to-comply cases, said he realizes that most offenders aren't actually living there permanently.

But both Deputy Lamb, who retired Friday, and Lori Olender, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, said it's troubling to charge - and difficult to successfully prosecute - someone for not filing a permanent address if they literally don't have one.

"They're absolutely tough cases," Ms. Olender said. "You can't prosecute someone for being homeless."

Officials elsewhere in Ohio echo those frustrations, but a few have set up informal policies to track transient offenders.

In Dayton, for example, authorities began listing the homeless offenders' address as West Second Street. That's the Montgomery County sheriff's records section. In exchange, the department asks that homeless offenders check in at least once a week.

So far it's worked: 13 offenders have routinely shown up on schedule.

"If someone wanted to challenge it, I guess they could," said Detective Leslie Bunch.

The question about a homeless offender's address is addressed, in part, by Senator Hagan's bill that was signed into law Friday by Governor Taft. Homeless offenders would be considered to be in compliance with the law as long as they continually update the sheriff's office of their whereabouts, Mr. Hagan said.

That leaves Cherry Street Mission in Toledo and possibly other shelters housing sex offenders with another problem.

The new law also gives teeth to existing legislation that prohibits offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school. The mission is down the street from two schools housed in the Macomber Building.

Asked if the new law means the Cherry Street Mission would stop accepting offenders, executive director Copi Valdiviez said only: "Our policy is always to obey the law."

Also troubling for law enforcement trying to work with the Sex Offender law is the offender who registers a false address.

When a deputy knocks on the door, the person who answers may be a family member or a girlfriend or boyfriend - willing to lie for the offender to keep them out of prison.

Deputy Lamb said he has to have a written statement from a resident at the address that the offender does not actually reside there.

"Without it, I can't go to the grand jury," Deputy Lamb said.

Even if he checked at a residence 100 times and no offender was there, Deputy Lamb asked to no one in particular, what does that prove? It's certainly not illegal for offenders to be elsewhere: at work, at school, running errands, or hanging with friends, he noted.

Even with an indictment, getting offenders to court might not be easy. Often, the offender is sent a letter or given a summons. That latter essentially asks the offender to show up in court on a particular date.

It's only after they fail to appear for that date that a judge might issue a warrant for their arrest, he said.

Medina told The Blade in 1997 that he had been harassed by neighbors who had discovered he was a sex offender. Tormented, he'd had to move, Medina said.

A few months later, Medina disappeared, according to court records. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but it wasn't until 2001 that authorities caught up with him.

Pleading no contest for failing to provide written notice of his change of address, Medina was sentenced to eight months in prison.

He began registering again when he was released. But by late last year, Lucas County authorities were having trouble finding him again, so they indicted him on a charge of failing to verify his address.

A summons was issued for a Nov. 4 court date. Medina didn't appear again and a warrant was again issued for his arrest, court records indicate.

The case is pending. Medina could not be reached by The Blade for comment.

Authorities around Ohio told The Blade that they believe Ohio's version of Megan's Law, which had been tweaked several times before Governor Taft signed the latest legislation Friday, is improving in many ways despite its loopholes and complexities.

Lt. Brenda Brenneman, who has been registering Wood County's sex offenders since the law first went into effect, said the evolution of the law means "we're on the way to a more effective registration process."

"It's fortunate that the law takes a chance to look at itself," she said.

"There's always an improvement phase."

Contact Robin Erb at: robinerb@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.



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