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Man stuck between clashing sex offender registration laws

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There’s a growing conflict between state and federal sex offender laws, and Kelly Piercy is in the middle of it.

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Kelly Piercy, 62, of Sardis, Ga., spent six years in prison after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography. He is eligible to be taken off Georgia's sex offender registry, but federal regulations forbid it. "If the state says I'm not a danger, then I should be able to live like a normal person," he said.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Kelly Piercy, 62, of Sardis, Ga., spent six years in prison after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography. He is eligible to be taken off Georgia's sex offender registry, but federal regulations forbid it. "If the state says I'm not a danger, then I should be able to live like a normal person," he said.

Piercy was sentenced to 87 months in federal prison in exchange for pleading guilty to possessing child pornography. His return to his native Georgia in 2005, after six years in prison, forced him to register in a state with what’s widely considered one of the toughest sex offender laws in the country.

Residency restrictions forced him to live in a small farmhouse in rural Burke County that’s 17 miles over open roads from the closest Walmart.

Piercy saw his chance to live a more normal life when Georgia lawmakers opened a way in 2010 for some sex offenders to get their names off the registry with a judge’s approval. These are offenders, for instance, who are disabled, teens charged with statutory rape for consensual sex or not likely to re-offend.

Piercy meets several of these criteria – he’s been slowly going blind since the 1970s because of a rare degenerative eye disease – and a Superior Court judge recently agreed that he should be taken off the registry.

But there’s a catch, and it’s one being repeated across America.

Superior Court Judge David Roper said federal regulations still compel Piercy to keep his name on the registry. Roper backs up the decision with a host of case law from similar challenges around the country.

For Piercy, it’s a slap in the face.

“If the state says I’m not a danger, then I should be able to live like a normal person,” he said.

HIS CASE IS representative of a larger debate in the legal community about the Adam Walsh Act, which established federal requirements and standards for sex offender registration in 2006. Only 15 states have substantially complied with the law; most, including Georgia, have chosen to take the penalty of a 10 percent reduction in federal law enforcement grants for not implementing it.

“It’s a real interesting and difficult area of law that a lot of people are dealing with,” said Augusta attorney Scott Connell, who is petitioning to have Augusta businessman Maxwell Vallotton removed from Georgia’s registry.

Connell said his focus is on getting Vallotton off the state registry first, but if he’s forced to tackle the federal requirements, then “we’ll do that dance.”

“A lot of people are going to be in that two-step process,” Connell said.

The question is whether a state’s sex offenders should have to comply with the federal requirements if the state doesn’t.

“The two laws basically can’t co-exist,” said Stephanie Carrigg, a senior policy adviser for the U.S. Justice Department Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking.

THE LAW, named for the murdered son of America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh, established guidelines for the types of information sex offenders must provide. Those guidelines, which fall under the umbrella of the Sex Offender Regis­tra­tion and Notification Act, require much more information about sex offenders to be publicly available than what’s commonly found on most state registries. It also requires juveniles convicted of sex crimes to register and extends the amount of time offenders have to report their address.

“One of the primary goals is information sharing,” said Linda Baldwin, the director of the Justice Department office.

Ideally, uniform reporting standards and improved digital databases would give law enforcement greater access to more accurate information so, for instance, a Rich­mond County deputy who pulls over an absconded sex offender from Alabama would know immediately who he is dealing with.

But most states are resisting the changes.

“They find it a difficult pill to swallow,” Baldwin said.

Terry Norris, the executive director of the Georgia Sheriff’s Association, said most sheriffs in Georgia are already going above and beyond what’s required by them to keep tabs on sex offenders in their neighborhoods.

He said the cost of implementing the added federal requirements is prohibitive.

“It’s the federal government telling you how to do something, when most of law enforcement is done by the local police department,” Norris said.

States had three years after the Adam Walsh Act became law to become substantially compliant with its requirements. Not doing so meant a 10 percent reduction in federal law enforcement Byrne grants, which provide funding for after-school education programs and specialized law enforcement training in areas such as gang prevention.

Norris said the penalty lacks teeth. Information from the Justice Policy Institute shows Georgia received $5,594,288 in Byrne grants in 2006; the penalty would be a loss of just more than $500,000. In contrast, the estimated cost to implement the federal requirements in 2009 was $15 million in Georgia.

“In the whole scheme of things, (the penalty) is not a big number,” Norris said.

PIERCY VIEWS HIMSELF as a victim of a broken system. He’s not against the registry’s intent, but he said it creates the illusion of safety to the general public.

He points to Phillip Garrido, a convicted sex offender wearing an ankle monitor in California who kidnapped Jaycee Dugard in 1991 when she was 11 and kept her as a prisoner for 18 years.

Piercy also argues that there are predators who were not on the registry, including Ryan Brunn, who pleaded guilty in Jan­uary to sexually assaulting and killing a 7-year-old girl in Canton, Ga., then killed himself in prison.

“What did the registry do for that child?” Piercy asked.

He proposes a three-year period on the registry that involves therapy and intense supervision. A re-evaluation after that period would determine whether the person should be removed from the registry.

“I don’t know if there’s a solution, but I think there’s a better answer,” he said.

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cdavidhess 02/11/12 - 05:14 pm
Sex offender registry laws

Sex offender registry laws are ripe for reconsideration. They have become an expensive mess. It is hard to argue that they really do any good. In New York State (and presumably other states as well), 95% of those arrested for sex crimes have no prior conviction for a sex crime and thus are not listed on any registry. The chief results of registration laws are a false sense of security, or conversely, hysteria.

leabillings 02/11/12 - 05:43 pm
There most certainly is a

There most certainly is a better answer than the way the registry and laws are working. It seems obvious that the status quo is not the answer as there are so many on the registry that are of low to no risk to others and this is the population of offenders that seems to show the most growth. LE is so overwhelmed by the workload caused by these offenders that it is virtually impossible to adequately monitor the ones who ARE judged to be high risk. Consequently it is a no brainer that many times these high risk individuals are the ones who slip through the cracks.

saltine 02/12/12 - 09:29 am
"Slowly" going blind" doen't

"Slowly" going blind" doen't mean he still can't see naked children and can still have sexual thoughts.Seems like the"feds"aren't playing with the town's old money.

TruthJusticeFaithHope 02/12/12 - 12:59 pm

39 MILLION ADULT SURVIVORS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE.... Most never told anyone... because powerful pedophiles intimidate, threaten, "groom" children and then molest, rape, torture and otherwise assault these young and vulnerable children. 39 Million victims... says to me... Millions of uncaught perpetrators. Easiest crime to conceal... most investigators tell us. We need to protect children... let's concentrate on efforts to punish the convicted, and protect the innocent.

leabillings 02/12/12 - 03:16 pm
Saltine, he has "slowly" been

Saltine, he has "slowly" been going blind for 40 years, so it does mean that he has not been able to "see" anything for a long time. You DID notice he was charged with "possession" of cp, not "viewing"?

Swampman 02/12/12 - 07:59 pm
"Diagnosed pedophiles and

"Diagnosed pedophiles and violent rapists have been found to have higher-than-average recidivism."

That is from the introductory paragraph on the website SOIssues cited. These are the offenders that concern me and make me feel that sex offender registries, while problematic, are worthwhile.

We could clean up some of the mess with a few legal changes - for example, we could reform or outright jettison most statutory rape laws. Most of them were not passed to protect children from adult sexual predators. They are mostly archaic statutes intended to give angry parents a legal bludgeon to bring down on those naughty boys trying to seduce their darling daughters. Jailing kids for having sex with kid is beyond absurd.

cozzster 02/13/12 - 02:46 am
Disgusting. If you don't

Disgusting. If you don't want to be a sex offender then don't do something that will get you labeled as one. I have no sympathy for this man. Blindness is the least you deserve. I agree sex offender laws are tough to enforce and in some cases do not do much good. That being said, I do not think some people should be pulled off just because they are not likely to reoffend or handicapped, whatever. Some probably do not get caught again, cause they learn the first time and get better at what they do. There should be a special law in place to fry these guys the same as we do murderers. We are too lax on crimes in the US and need to set an example. I am not saying live like barbarians, but we could definitely clean out the gutters and no one would shed a tear.

shelomith_stow 02/14/12 - 09:23 am
I will be pleased when/if

I will be pleased when/if those who use the term "pedophile" use it appropriately. It is a medical/psychological diagnosis designating one with a primary sexual attraction to prepubescent children. It is inappropriately used to indicate those with a sexual interest in teenagers, which apparently encompasses at least half of all people over the age of twelve and 100% of the advertising industry.
Many pedophiles have never inappropriately touched a child. Most pedophiles who do choose their victims from their circle of family members and friends' children, and those folk, once caught, have a very low recidivism rate. So a more accurate statement would be that pedophiles who choose strangers as victims and use violence have a higher recidivism. I am by no means defending the act of child molestation; I just feel that in a discussion this serious, the more accurate the facts are, the better.

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