Laws change for sex offenders
By Faye Ellison and Jessica Newberry
Staff Writer and Intern
In a move to keep children safe from sexual offenders, Georgia legislators recently voted to pass what some say to be the most drastic sex offender laws in the country.
During the recent general assembly, House Bill 1059 was brought before Georgia lawmakers to toughen sex offender laws and passed with an almost unanimous vote. Since being signed by Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, the new laws will go into effect July 1.
State Representative Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island, is the sponsor for the plan. A representative said these new laws are modeled after the Jessica Lunsford Act that was passed last year in Florida by Governor Jeb Bush.
"This started over a year ago after Florida passed the Jessica Lunsford Act," said Malcolm Smith, a spokesperson for Keen. "We got some of the attorneys up here together and based it on some of the new laws in the Lunsford Act."
The new bill helps to tighten the leash on where sex offenders can live, work and spend leisure time. It also gives new, stricter guidelines on sentencing convicted sex offenders.
The new restrictions include:
- Sex offenders cannot loiter within 1,000 feet of a child care facility, school, church or any other area where minors congregate, including school bus stops, public and private park and recreation facilities, playgrounds, skating rinks, neighborhood centers, gymnasiums and public and community swimming pools.
- Sex offenders cannot work within 1,000 feet of a day care, school or church and those defined as sex predators cannot work in any area where minors congregate.
- Registration for life is required for all convicted sex offenders unless they were adjudicated in juvenile court or convicted of a misdemeanor.
- Convicted sex offenders now have to register with the local sheriff's office within 72 hours of their birthdate or when they change residence, reducing the time requirement from the original 10 days.
- Sexual predators, which are persons who have committed a sexually violent offense and who suffer from a mental abnormality or personality disorder or an attitude that places him or her at risk of perpetrating future sexually violent offenses, must wear a GPS monitor for the rest of their lives and pay for the use of the monitor.
Smith went on to say that the new laws have been in the spotlight of the press as they near their effective date.
"We have a lot of media calling right now," Smith said. "We have been trying to get this new bill out there and going to the community to talk about it. The response has been a unanimous support for it. It is protecting the children in Georgia by tracking down sex offenders."
Another sex offender law was passed during the 2005 general assembly warranting that all convicted sex offenders will have their picture, address, when they were convicted and the disposition of the case run in the county's legal organ where the sex offender decides to live after being released from confinement shortly after registering with the sheriff's office.
But no good deed goes unpunished, especially for those trying to protect children from sex offenders. The Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal class-action lawsuit Tuesday challenging the laws.
"Thousands of people on Georgia's sex offender registry will be forced, by legislative fiat, to evacuate their homes, leave their jobs, cease attending their churches and abandon court-mandated treatment programs," the lawsuit states.
The head plaintiff in the case is a woman who was convicted of sodomy when she was 17 years old, after a consensual sex act with a 15 year old boy. She fears that too many people in the same situation will be labeled a sex offender under the new law.
"It's a shame that when we take steps to protect children from absolutely the worst of our criminal element, that there are those who would want to defend them," Keen said recently to the Associated Press.
The sheriffs' offices in Jefferson and Glascock counties have both made plans to enforce the new law.
In Jefferson County, Sheriff Gary Hutchins said that he and his officers have been reading over the new law and will have a class on it in July. Glascock County Sheriff Dean Couch said he plans to attend a two-day class on the new law in August.
"The whole organization of the new law has really fallen back on us, and we're going to have two designated part-time officers who will be responsible for making sure all of the sex offenders in the county are registered," Hutchins said. "This is going to put a lot more work on the sheriff's office with the requirements for getting the information out to the public by posting it in public schools and government buildings."
"My intentions are to comply with all the new laws," Couch added. "We are required to enforce it and that's my intention."
Though both offices have some reservations about the new law, they say there will be benefits to the community.
"The stricter time requirements for registration will greatly benefit our organization and our awareness of their location," Hutchins said. "This will give comfort to the public to know that these sex offenders won't be around bus stops and other popular places for children. I think this is a good idea, and we're going to try our best to enforce it but it's going to take the public."
Though Jefferson County itself is home to over 30 sex offenders, Glascock County only has one that has taken residence in the county. Couch said that they never have had problems with the one sex offender.
"We only have one registered sex offender in the county," Couch said. "We have no problems with him. He reports to let us know where he is working and living. If he moves or changes jobs, he lets us know."
Hutchins explained that many members of the community have already contacted the sheriff's office to ask for a list of sex offenders so they can be on alert. Hutchins said he expects the community to continue their help and support of the law's enforcement.
"It will be hard for them to find a place to live that complies with the restrictions of the new law, but they need to know that we're not going to just put up with this kind of behavior," Hutchins added. "They made the choice, and we need to stop them now and hopefully deter future sex offenders."
'I had never seen anything like it'
• A Glascock County Fire Chief describes harrowing experience with tornado last week
By Faye Ellison
For a man that usually is out helping others, Chief Frank McGahee, of the Gibson-Glascock County Fire Department, was blown away last week by the outpouring of help when a tornado uprooted his peaceful afternoon of country living.
Monday, June 19, McGahee and his wife were at home on Steephollow Road when the weather turned from a light shower into hail.
"My wife was in the kitchen washing the dishes and I was sitting in my recliner," McGahee said. "All of a sudden there was a pop of thunder and I looked out the window. I had never seen anything like it before. Outside was as white as a sheet and I said something was fixing to happen."
After noticing the dramatic change in the weather, McGahee said it began to hail. He and his wife stormed through the house lifting windows, while the wind began to increase outside.
"We went out onto the back porch lifting up windows," McGahee remembered. "My wife got a window down and as soon as she did the wind blew it out, barely missing her."
While running back into the house, McGahee said he noticed things flying off of the kitchen counter and cabinets.
"The dish water looked like snow falling to the floor," McGahee said.
When inside, McGahee's wife ran to another part of the house while calling for him. He said she did not want to be alone.
No sooner had the storm begun, it ended.
McGahee said it felt like the tornado lasted on a few seconds, but probably actually lasted a couple of minutes.
He then picked up the phone to call and see if there were any reports of tornados in Glascock County.
"I was about to dial the number when the current went out," he said. "Then I began hollering on my radio. In a little bit my yard filled up with vehicles. Folks in this county will turn out to help you."
When McGahee stepped outside, the calm country was turned into a twisted scene, with trees downed and metal twisted into nothing more than a junk pile.
"The tornado bucked up the tin on my house, twisted trees off, blew trees over and twisted a light pole off and set it right back on the ground," McGahee said.
Parts of the barn roof were blown away and his swingset was twisted into a pile of iron.
Down behind McGahee's house and garden, a path has been bored into the woods, where the tornado ripped up pine trees while making its way to the house.
"I believe if we hadn't lifted the windows up, it would have destroyed our house," McGahee said finding comfort that the tornado did not demolish his home. "This is the first one I have ever been through and I pray to God that it will be the last. I kept telling God to let us be okay and we would worry about the other stuff later."
McGahee and his wife were without electricity for about an hour, but they found comfort in the many friends and neighbors that showed up offering help until 10:30 that night.
"It was wonderful how people helped to get things cleaned up," he said. "I want to say think you to everybody that turned out to help. Glascock County is the best county of anywhere around here."
McGahee said he called the national weather service, but no reports of any tornados or severe weather had been reported. He said he knows that there was a tornado.
"A guy and his driver were going down the road and he spotted the funnel," McGahee said. "He told the driver to turn around because they needed to get out of there."
Now in the aftermath of the storm, McGahee has been able to clean up most of his property, but he still had one problem Friday afternoon he said he was still looking for his trashcan.
Peanut butter and dead squirrel bandits sandwich city
• Sheriff says he plans to prosecute those involved in defacing public property throughout down-town Mitchell
By Faye Ellison
A peanut butter bandit or bandits painted the city of Mitchell creamy after a prank-filled spree Thursday night.
According to Glascock County Sheriff Dean Couch and Glascock County Commission Chairman and Mitchell resident Anthony Griswell, many citizens and business owners woke to find the city had been plastered with peanut butter.
Couch said he believes that there were at least two individuals involved.
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The pranksters' antics did not end there; they also squirted lewd comments in ketchup on the vehicles of families that were out of town at the time, and they left a dead squirrel in a mail slot at the city's post office.
"They called me down here Friday morning and first of all, I saw a mess in the lobby," a spokesperson for the Mitchell Post Office said. "When I came in the back part, there was a dead squirrel on top of the mail with half a peanut butter sandwich on top of it."
The spokesperson went on to say one of the two bags of trash that was outside waiting to be picked up Friday morning had been dumped on the lobby floor.
"They put peanut butter on all the lock boxes," the spokesman said. "Every lock they could find they covered with peanut butter. They did not mess up the mail with the dead squirrel, but it did make the building stink all day.
"The day got going and the mail got out. It could have been much worse."
The police reports state that the bandits removed letters from various post office boxes and threw them on the floor and mixed them in with the trash. They also put peanut butter on the letters that were mixed with the trash, put peanut butter on the front door lock and stuck a slice of bread to mail box number 32 which belongs to the city of Mitchell.
Griswell said they left some peanut butter and slices of bread on his saw shop's mailbox and according to the police report, put peanut butter in the door lock of the saw shop facing the Mitchell Corner Store.
"We had gotten a big kick out of this," he said, "but the bad thing is what if next time they throw a brick through a window."
Griswell described the scene found in downtown Mitchell Friday morning.
"They didn't mess with some of the businesses," Griswell said. "But they put peanut butter and bread on windows and buildings of the fire department and city hall. They also put peanut butter on an 18-wheeler parked in town."
An orange 2003 Freightliner tractor belonging to John Russell Latham was covered in peanut butter on the headlights and two right-side windows with bread stuck on top of the peanut butter, according to Couch. Peanut butter was also put on the front left door locks.
Couch said that the bandits put peanut butter in the front and left side door locks as well as on the two right side windows then stuck bread to the windows on top of the peanut butter.
The vehicles that were vandalized were parked in the yard of Hubert Pulliam. The police report states that a white 2002 Toyota Sequoia; gray 1999 Ford F250; gray 1996 Ford F250 and a gray 1993 Ford F250 were covered with ketchup and peanut butter with peanut butter also in the door locks. The lewd comments were written on the vehicle's hoods and windows.
Couch also reported that the marquee sign in the middle of Mitchell had letters rearranged to also make lewd words. He said there was no damage to the sign other than that.
"We have two juvenile suspects at the time that I plan to talk to," Couch said. "It is a shame that people who work so hard to keep the city clean have to deal with individuals that do this, that deface property just for kicks.
"I won't rest until I find out who did this and prosecute them."