The Problem With Sex Offender Registries

by Diane Dimond on August 29, 2016

He was accused of an unspeakable crime he did not commit. For 27 years Earnest Leap of Oakview, Missouri has lived with the ugly label, “child molester.” With his name on a publicly available sex registry the word quickly spread that he had sexually abused his own son and had “admitted” it in court.

The facts of Leap’s case make it clear it could happen to anyone in the midst of a contentious child custody case.

Earnest Leap and His Son Brodie Who Says He Was Forced to Lie

In the fall of 1989, following an antagonistic divorce, a judge ruled that Earnest and Karen Leap would share custody of their sons, 5-year-old Brodie and toddler Josh. Primary custody was awarded to Earnest and the boys would live most of the time with their father.

Within months of that ruling Brodie – now 32 – remembers his mother “incessantly” cajoling him to say his father had sexually abused him. Brodie, motivated by a terrible guilt, has spent much of his adult life trying to undo the damage.

Hauled into court to face child abuse allegations Earnest took the flawed advice of his public defender and accepted a deal to plead “no contest” to the charge. The deal included no jail time, a guarantee that his record would disappear in three years – and most important to Earnest – it would spare his son from having to testify at a difficult trial. Back then there was no such thing as a sex registry.

Once on the Registry a Person is Branded For Life

Once on the Registry a Person is Branded For Life

Then in 1994, a federal law required every state to establish a public registry listing every person convicted of a sex crime. In Missouri, Earnest Leap was forced to register as a sex offender and remain on the registry for the rest of his life. His world began to fall apart, his movements limited by the rule that an offender may not be in proximity to or live near minors. Imagine going through life having to dodge schools, malls, parks, theaters, even ice cream stores.

For decades both Brodie and brother Josh have campaigned to clear their father’s name calling him, “the most positive force” in their lives.

Finally, their efforts paid off.  Earlier this month, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon issued a full and complete pardon for Leap. On August 19th Earnest got the call and heard the news he must have longed for. Complete exoneration. Pardoned for the crime he never committed.

Finally Absolved of a Crime He Did Not Committ

Finally Absolved of a Crime He Did Not Commit

“I’m still overwhelmed,” Leap, 57, told the Kansas City Star after the call. “I am just really, really thankful.”

The governor wrote that chief among the reasons he granted the pardon was the fact that Brodie Leap had never wavered from his insistence that he had lied all those years ago at the urging of his mother. (Contacted recently Karen Leap Harris continued to maintain the molestation occurred saying, “It happened … My son would not have lied to me back then,” she said. “I don’t know why Brodie is lying now.”) Sadly, neither adult son has a relationship with his mother.

I’ve written in this space before about the senseless way in which these sex registries are maintained. They should focus on tracking career pedophiles and those who produce and trade in the worst kinds of child pornography. Instead, state registries are overflowing with the names of those convicted of drunkenly urinating in public or those involved in so-called Romeo and Juliet sexual contact. Just because the parents of a 16-year-old girl want her just-turned-18-year-old boyfriend punished doesn’t mean the state should participate in ruining a young man’s life.

Leap With Brodie, Rep. Jim Neely Who Pushed Clemency and Son Josh

Leap With Son Brodie, Rep. Jim Neely Who Pushed for Pardon and Son Josh

The trend does seem to be shifting ever so slowly. Last year, the California Supreme Court declared sex-offender living restrictions were unconstitutional. In New York, the Court of Appeals struck down an ordinance that banned sex offenders from living near schools. And the high court in Massachusetts, did the same. A judge there compared living restrictions placed on one group of citizens to some of the country’s darkest history – the construct of reservations for native Americans and internment camps for Japanese Americans.

As the Leap’s marriage was dissolving in the late 80’s President Reagan’s Labor Secretary, Ray Donovan, was found not guilty of corruption charges and he famously asked, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?

As Earnest Leap knows it’s mighty hard to undo 27 years of public perception. Where does he go now for relief from the nearly three decades of undeserved punishment?

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Dimond August 29, 2016 at 10:36 am

Creators Syndicate Reader The Equalizer writes:

“The sex offender law/registry is unfair and probably unconstitutional. Nothing legally or morally justifies taking away anyone’s constitutional rights,
publicly shaming them and their families forever, and making their rehabilitation impossible. But that’s precisely what we have done with the notorious sex offender registry, which now includes nearly 800,000 people. This totally ignores whether an individual has been rehabilitated. It is meant to be a lifelong stigma. If lawmakers really wanted to strike a blow for human rights, they’d repeal the entire sex offender list. Or replace it with a smaller list of only the most potentially dangerous and violent offenders. We can’t lower taxes without eliminating wasteful spending on programs that simply don’t serve the public effectively. It’s often said we need to lock up only those we are afraid of, not those we are mad at. That’s a matter of simple justice, and may apply even more to those who have served their sentences, and who we would, nevertheless, publicly stigmatize.”

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Diane Dimond August 29, 2016 at 10:37 am

Equalizer,
You said it better than I could have. Time to carefully audit and pair down every state sex registry list.… Keeping only the names of bona fide career pedophiles. All the others who commit sex acts and are convicted will have a police record to identify them. Totally agree with you! ~ DD

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Alice M. Benson August 29, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Diane, this was so in your face — almost the same situation my husband had. Don’s wife accused him of some other charge and it didn’t work, then she thought up sex offender and the judge bought it. We just left a church of five years because a new pastor and head of the deacon board insisted Don be accompanied to the restroom, even tho it had only one toilet! We spend time with a bunch at the halfway house who imagine they can go out into the real world and do what they used to do. Our next letter has a great story about Shane http://www.titushouseministries.org Regards, Alice

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Diane Dimond August 30, 2016 at 10:48 am

Facebook Friend Sandy Frank Sanchez ” I am so glad to finally see these registries come under fire.It is so easy to ruin someone’s life with being labeled a sex offender when they plead guilty to charges being defended by an inexperienced public defender. Once you are labeled a sex offender you are forbidden to live near a school, go to a park, or live a peaceful life forever more. I know someone who has since been taken off the registry but the damage to his reputation was unrepairable. He went to a trade school and graduated with a perfect 4.0 all throughout his schooling having surpassed all scoring by almost 25,000,000 bonus points.And yes that is twenty five million.Because of the stigma of being on that registry this man became unsuitable for hiring and homeless.And this was after he was taken off the registry. Once on the internet, forever on the internet.The guy who urinated behind the building is on it. The 19 yr old lover of his 17 yr old girlfriend whose father is a cop is on there. But the real sex offenders go unnoticed.The pedophiles who regularly attend church every Sunday. The pedophile priests who are relocated to other parishes. The college coaches who run the charitable childrens organization to get closer to their prey they go unnoticed or get a pass altogether.Its time for a complete overhaul of all the sex registries across the country. Thank you Diane for once again going where no one else dare go. After all if this registry was correct we know someone who did belong on here but his celebrity status and millions kept him off it. How many young boys were robbed of their innocence by a very flawed system that allows you to buy your way off the list. My favorite reporter. You never cease to amaze me. God bless you Diane, always!”

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Diane Dimond August 30, 2016 at 10:49 am

Dina Monaco-Boland writes:

“Wow…. Lives ruined… This is awful.”

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Diane Dimond August 30, 2016 at 10:50 am

Facebook Friend Bill Voinovich writes:

” In their HEARTS, THEY know they didn’t do anything, but it’s really hard to sway the court of public opinion..GOD KNOWS the truth…”

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Diane Dimond August 30, 2016 at 10:50 am

Facebook Friend Alan Fountain writes:

” My experience is that those in power are more likely to be offenders and they influence the legislation and justice systems with DA and Judges. They wrongly place great resources to prosecute cases like Romeo and Juliet cases or any case to keep the focus off the serial predator culture of those in power, They know the price of a conviction is murdered in jail as prisoners now realize their life got off tract after a molestation. The sex registry does not contain the names of the worst offenders. Those in power and with money will buy their way out of charges and make deals with good ol boy network associates. This system needs a think tank made up of victims, advocates and those citizens interested reform. Its broken and corrupt. Many improvements could be made. Serial offenders who are highly manipulative and bright gravitate to positions of authority to protect themselves and their own…a vampire like colony of protection of like person of similar compulsion curse. Denmark is leading the world in wise practices. The registry does not include those that are proven guilty in civil cases or that admit their guilt in civil court. We need a sex abuse Czar.

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Diane Dimond August 30, 2016 at 11:04 am

Creators Syndicate Reader GUEST writes:

“Why have this list at all? How exactly does reporting to the local cop shop once or four times a year and being publicly named and shamed PREVENT anything? And if it did – why is there no list for other criminals? Surely there must be bona fide career sociopaths who have committed worse crimes. Yes, there are those.

Is no one interested in protecting me and my children from them?”

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