Our Opinion: Keep sexual offenders in seclusion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Upon the arrest of John Evander Couey for the murder of 9-year-old Jessica Marie Lunsford in Florida, Citrus County Sheriff Jim Dawsy’s tone said it all. He was clearly outraged and disgusted during a press conference in which he announced that Couey, a known sexual offender, was the culprit behind Lunsford’s disappearance and murder.

Couey now faces charges of capital murder, burglary with battery, kidnapping and sexual battery on a child less than 12 years of age.

The country shares the anger of Sheriff Dawsey and most importantly, Jessica’s father, Mark Lunsford, who along with law enforcement, is pushing for the death penalty in this case. At the heart of Mark Lunsford’s efforts is a move to keep sexual offenders incarcerated.

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&uot;There should be a law for Jesse,&uot; Lunsford said.

And indeed there should, for Jessica and the hundreds

of other children who have fallen prey to these repeat offenders-and the victims to come if something doesn’t change. It is increasingly clear that our judicial system must take another look at how sexual offenders are simply reimported back into society. This simply cannot continue.

Couey has a criminal record stemming back 30 years, and has failed to comply with sex-offender registration requirements and probation guidelines, two additional charges he faced in court Tuesday. Making this case even more difficult is the fact that he was likely in a drug-induced haze, according to the sheriff, meaning

no one will likely know the true timeline surrounding Jessica’s death.

In California, a trial began Monday in the death of Samantha Runnion, who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and murdered, allegedly at the hands of another known sexual offender who faced molestation charges in 2001. The list of similar examples is far too extensive.

Sexual offenders should remain in jail or in facilities dedicated to providing them the help they so direly need. Many are beyond help and simply need to be kept away from the general population.

But until laws are put in place to make this happen, law enforcement and probation officers must do a better job of keeping track of sexual offenders and ensuring that they adhere to the terms of their release.

Had this happened, Couey likely would have been back in jail and Jessica’s life could have been spared.