Ky. Law Shields Some Sex Offenders From Registries - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Ky. Law Shields Some Sex Offenders From Registries

By Eric Flack

(LOUISVILLE) -- Sex offenders -- their crimes are heinous, and the chances they will strike again are disturbingly high. Usually, sex offender registries let you know who to look out for. But WAVE 3 Investigator Eric Flack has uncovered one group of sex offenders whose identities are protected. In fact, someone from this list could be living right next door, and you would never know.

Sex offenders are seen as such a threat, such a danger to you and your children, websites allow you to find out where they are, right down to the street number.

But there is a group of sex offenders hidden from the public. A group of rapists, pedophiles and child molesters, that get special protection from the law.

Juvenile sex offenders.

Bridget Skaggs Brown, Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice, says Kentucky's laws for Juvenile sex offenders are much less strict than the adult offenders.

In Kentucky, there are at least 232 sex offenders under the age of 18, and 38 in Louisville Metro and the surrounding areas. But because they are juveniles, their trials and records are closed to the public. All convictions are kept secret.

"People could be living next door to a sex offender, and have small children, and they won't know that," Brown said in an exclusive interview with WAVE 3.

She went on to say that problems in the system go even deeper than that. Under current Kentucky law, the maximum sentence a juvenile sex offender can receive is just three years in a youth detention center.

"That's not much," Brown admitted.

Three years for crimes that can carry sentences of up to life in prison for adults.

In 1993, Jeremy Gipson was 15 when he was convicted of raping a 7-year-old boy in Louisville. But secrecy laws kept Gipson's past hidden from everyone, including the parents of 12-year-old Jessica Thornsberry.

Two years after his rape conviction, when he was 17, Gipson raped, sodomized and strangled young Jessica, then dumped her body in Iroquois Park.

Unaware of his dark secret, Jessica's family willingly let her go to Gipson's home the night of the murder.

"Oh yeah, we're all bitter about it," said Jessica's grandmother, Louise Hume, in a 1998 interview. "And it doesn't get any easier."

Driven by cases like Jessica's, the Kentucky Coalition Against Sexual Assaults, a task force co-chaired by Brown, wants to strengthen the state's laws for juvenile sex offenders.

The proposal includes provisions to:

  • Eliminate the 3-year limit on sentencing and treatment.
  • Automatically waive the most serious cases to adult court.
  • Adding juveniles convicted of the most serious sex crimes to the public sex offender registry.

The third provision is raising controversy, and Dr. Charles Thomas, a psychiatrist who treats sex offenders, has serious concerns.

"I really have a strong objection to treating youth who offended as adults," Dr. Thomas said.

He says while teens are capable of committing the same acts as adults, they are often unable to understand the seriousness and consequences of their crimes. Treat juvenile sex offenders like adults, he says, and you lose any chance to rehabilitate them.

"If you label youth who sexually offend with that scarlet letter, and if they are permanently stigmatized for the rest of their life with that, they are not going to have the opportunity to re-integrate back into society," Thomas said.

The debate hits home for Steve and Susie Hiland of Germantown.

"Anytime that there is somebody out there that can hurt your kids, that you don't know about, you're at a disadvantage," Susie said.

With four young kids, the Hilands say they are torn between the need to protect their own, and the need to preserve laws protecting juvenile sex offenders.

"Hopefully, most juveniles given a second chance, once they become adults, wont be recidivists," Steve said.

But those calling for change say: history proves otherwise.

"Just because they're a juvenile, doesn't mean they're not dangerous," said Brown.

The Kentucky legislature will have to vote on and pass any changes to the state's juvenile sex offender laws. That debate is expected to take place next year.

In 2003, Indiana changed its laws, and now puts juveniles convicted of sex offenses on its sex offender registry. Other states across the nation have done the same.

Online Reporter: Eric Flack

Online Producer: Michael Dever