Monday, February 18, 2008

How to deal with the married sex offender?

Here, from my files, comes to you a particularly thorny workplace question of ethics. I'm struggling with it, and would like to float it here, for everyone to think about, and perhaps even a few intrepid souls to comment upon.

For those of you who do not know, or who are simply a few months behind, I am a newspaper reporter in the state of Wyoming.

Let me give you something of a background in the law, as well as I am versed in it, and then I'll dive right into the confusing contours and particulars of this situation.

The law.
Again, caveat emptor: I have a deep interest in the law, but I'm not lawyer. I've only lived in Wyoming for about seven weeks now, so I'm still trying to figure out the subtle differences in the law between here and Iowa, my former residence.

In Wyoming, there are two classifications of sex offenders, with three tiers in each classification index. The first index is how long an offender must register their residence, the second is how likely they are to re-offend.

Both are now set by the state. Previously, the risk of re-offending was determined by the local judge.

Offenders are required to register for 15 or 25 years, or for the rest of their lives. Registration involves going to the local Sheriff and providing print information, data on vehicles owned and operated, address of residence, and posing for a photo.

All of this information, plus the title of the statute that the offender was convicted under, is entered onto a website that anyone can access. If offenders are classified as Type H or Type J, the Sheriff is also required to "paper."

Type G offenders usually fall under the 15 year registration requirement, and are considered the lowest risk to re-offend. Type H offenders usually fall under the 25 year registration requirement, and are considered a moderate risk. Type J offenders usually fall under the lifetime registration requirement, and are considered so likely to re-offend that the state decided to skip the letter "I" in the matrix.

The risk assessment -- which determines how likely a given offender is to re-offend -- is performed by the state Attorney General's office (or maybe it's DCI, which is like the state FBI), although it used to be done by the judge, remember?

The registration requirement -- 15 years, 25 years, or life -- is determined solely by the statute under which the offender was charged, and the ages of those involved (more on this later). It is black and white, insomuch as that it can be applied by a monkey.

Now, if an offender is convicted out of state and subsequently moves to Wyoming, the state must try and figure out under which Wyoming law the offender would have been convicted here. Wyoming has unusual sexual crimes statutes, and is in the process of modernizing them, which means that these transitions can be difficult.

When a new offender moves into the county and registers, the Sheriff is required to "paper and notify" if the offender is in Type H or J. Papering involves going to every residence within 750 feet of the offender's residence and giving them a flier with that information I described above (sans fingerprints), as well as notifying county schools, libraries, day cares, churches, &c.

Finally in the law department: for those of you keeping score at home, it apparently can sometimes be a crime to reveal the identity of a victim of sexual assault.

The specifics.
A man and wife, and their four (methinks) children recently moved into town. The woman works at a local eatery, and I'm unsure as to the man's occupation.

The woman is a convicted sex offender. She was convicted in Utah, in 2004, of unlawful sexual activity with a minor, a felony. In 2006, she successfully lobbied the court of original jurisdiction to have the conviction reduced to attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor, a class "a" misdemeanor.

The victim is now her husband, and two of her four children apparently are by him.

She is considered, by the state of Wyoming, to be a Type J offender: most likely to re-offend. She also has a lifetime duty to register. This is because -- as well as we were able to figure out at the newspaper -- Wyoming made their classifications about her based upon her original conviction, not the subsequently reduced charge.

I suspect that if someone were to run her through NCIC or do a localized search in Utah, only the misdemeanor conviction would show up. But I don't have NCIC, and I couldn't quickly discover how to do a localized search in Utah.

As a Type J, the Sheriff was required to paper town. As a matter of policy, when the Sheriff papers, the newspaper runs a brief story about the offender.

Now comes the woman, angry with the Sheriff for papering, because of her subsequently reduced charge. She delivers a letter to the editor to the newspaper, announcing that she was convicted of "attempted unlawful sexual activity with a minor" and is now married to him. There's no reason to fear her, is the clear intimation.

In discussions at work, several views were raised. One was that, because the woman is now married to the victim, she is less of a risk. I doubt that marriage is such a powerful force, and said as much. But I wholeheartedly agreed that the woman should have the opportunity to present her case to the people who would shortly be reading about her in the newspaper.

But the letter clearly identifies the victim of the crime: her husband. As best as I can understand the Wyoming statute (scroll down to 6-2-310) on the topic, it is illegal to release the name of the offender or the victim of a sexual assault up to trial, and perhaps beyond. A minor victim's name can not be released indefinitely.

Now, I'm not positively sure that the husband is 18. Everyone seems to be assuming that he is, but I don't know the legal age to marry in Utah, either, so I'm worried that it is a flawed assumption.

Alright, well, we would have to severely curtail this woman's ability to make her case in the public forum, if we are to refuse to allow her to identify the fact that she is now married to the victim, and has children by him. Again, while I disagree, a good number of people think that the fact that they are married makes a significant difference.

So, what to do? Should the newspaper even be running such notices (i.e., victim and offender are now married; in my county there are 14 registered sex offenders and beside the woman we here consider, two others, both men, are now married to their victims)? Our hands our tied in this case: we don't have time to come up with a new policy before press time. And I don't think we should.

Are we destroying this woman's life? I imagine we will be responsible for causing a good deal of harm not only to her life, but to the lives of those in her family, as well as the eatery where she works. Regardless of what people think about her being married, I've already thrice heard "Eww, that was a sex offender that waited on me?"

And what about the other two persons in the county, the two men, who are now married to their one-time victims? Before my arrival here, one of them was papered and subsequently written up in the newspaper, while the other was not.

(The second was not because he was convicted before the most recent change in the law. When the law changed, he was reclassified as a more serious offender, and required to begin registering again after his original 15 year registration had concluded. He is still married to the woman he was convicted of assaulting more than 15 years ago. He has not yet been papered because he is suing the state over his reclassification, and the Sheriff is waiting on the suit to complete.)

Come to think of it, should newspapers be printing any of these things? Should offenders have to register at all? I wonder if they shouldn't just be left in prison until they have been sufficiently treated to satisfy the state that they are not likely to re-offend? I don't have any good answers, I'm afraid.

So, what of the woman married to the man that she was convicted of assaulting when he was a minor? If the ages make any difference to your analysis, and they have mine, here is what little I know:

Reading the date of her conviction and her current age, I figured that the woman was 25 at the time of the incident. Reading the way that the Utah law she was originally convicted under lines up against the Wyoming law that she was classified under, I figure he was 14 or 15 (Utah law: 14 or 15, Wyoming law: 13-15 -- for Wyoming law, see here, under 6-2-315(a)(i)). However, the woman claims she was 20 and he was 15 or 16 (hearsay, but a considerably smaller margin than by my back-of-the-napkin figures).

So I'm more or less lost about how this should be handled. Anyone? Please examine everything here that you care to, including my reading of the law, and newspaper policies, and where I like to put commas in sentences. I'm really at a loss to come to any conclusion that I feel halfway comfortable with.

There are a lot of facts to marshal here, and I hope I've gotten them all right. Take especially my interpretations of the law with much salt, as well as my math on the ages above. But even if my facts are somewhere wrong, I felt that this was an important enough issue to raise anyway.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Villain

Ah, you can tell that I've really gotten into a fit of writing when I stay home on a Friday night to push out a few pages. But it has been too long since I've offered anything of substance here, and I was in the mood. Now that I'm done, I'm going to have supper and then make a run for my local tavern - where I'll proofread this. I hope you enjoy it. As an aside, I'm going to submit this to my college's lit mag.

With a bottle of Ancient Age in his left hand and a case of Coors in his right, Jeremy Tout tried to fumble the door to his apartment open. It was a Friday night, and he was desperately trying to figure out what to do for supper.

Walking into the living room, he placed the beer in his dorm fridge that he now used for booze. He put the bottle of whiskey on top of the fridge, and grabbed a clean - if not somewhat dusty - low ball and poured himself a healthy dose. He had neglected to buy soda, so straight whiskey and beer were the choices tonight.

Tout sipped his dram while he meandered into the kitchen. Clicking on the cheap fluorescent light over the sink, he read for the hundredth time the bumper sticker he had hung there:

"May god be with you on your quest for a clue"

That's about how he felt tonight; indeed, it was how he felt most nights.

He grabbed a banana and walked back into the living room. He turned on some music, and turned out the lights, firing a few tea light candles as he walked from fixture to fixture. He sat down and turned the music up.

And then he stood up again. He quickly ate the banana, and walked to the garbage, throwing away the peel.

He walked back to the couch and resumed his seat.

And then he quit his seat, again. This time, he had forgotten his cigarettes. He grabbed them from the desk across the room, thinking himself very clever to remember the matches and ashtray.

A third time he settled into his preferred corner of the couch, letting his legs dangle over the edge, his posture slouched. He sloshed the whiskey around in the glass, and finished it before lighting a cigarette. The Diamond sparkled as he scrapped it along the sole of his boot, and then he placed the glowing orb to the tip of the Marlboro, inhaling that first drag, a mixture of sulfur and smoke. It burned, but no more than the whiskey.

...and thinking of whiskey, he poured himself another, between puffs of the cigarette, and he drew a beer from the refrigerator. He hastily drank the whiskey this time, now that he had acclimated to it. He did not yet open the beer: it was some matter of personal pride to him to drink straight spirit without considering a chaser. He took another drag, and inspected the flicker of the candlelight.

He put the glass down on the fridge, and then put out the Marlboro in the ashtray, also on the fridge. Looking through the glass of the dispensary for spent smokes, he noticed - again for the hundredth time - the bumper sticker he had affixed to the top of the fridge:

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

That particular sticker was a good one to contemplate when he was drinking, Tout thought, and grabbed the beer, cracking it open to the satisfying sound of a little more relaxation just sips away.

He had thought about that particular bumper sticker so long now it wasn't even thinking. Like a path trodden through golden grass in his head, he had trampled a circular path around the thing. The grass would not grow anew; he just walked the same path over and over again, thinking it thinking.

On the one hand, he could completely understand the sentiment: once you're dead, there isn't much left to complain about. Death even paled in comparison to many of the more uncomfortable ways to go. And then, sleep, without the alarm ever going off again.

Sounded kind of nice.

But on the other hand, death was bullshit. Tout was young, but he had seen enough death to know that it wasn't something to be celebrated. A character on a TV show had once said that there was no dignity in death, or something like that.

Something like that. His head swirled around the conflicting ideas of death as a permanent holiday and death as being the end of everything. Could you enjoy a holiday if you couldn't think anymore? No, but you couldn't be pained, either.

The music skipped - a loud, electronic, obnoxious sound - and jarred his mind out of the rut. Without willing it, without meaning it, without even realizing it, his head settled back down to a slightly different spot than it had found itself before the jolt. Just outside of the rut.

Tout had always thought that the bumper sticker implied something painful. But now the words reformed in his skull, rearranging themselves in a new way. "Death is of the greatest insignificance."

His mind had gone off of the rails, like it sometimes did. More rarely now did he enjoy these superfluous moments of insight, but when they did come there were manna. He was racing around in the badlands in his brain, feeling out the dynamics of this new idea, this reassessment. He was almost to a destination of sorts, the excitement rising in him. He sipped beer as cool as if he were matching socks after laundry, but inside there was a symphony tuning before the show, and the tension was mounting.

The candles seemed to burn brighter for a moment, the music was louder. Something whacked him in the temple, and he thought he might pass out for a moment. He was seeing stars.

Nearly dropping his beer, Tout steadied himself with his free hand, feeling ill. With some sense of balance regained, he put that left hand to his temple, trying to discover what had stricken him.

The candles returned to their dull flicker, and the music was again a familiar tune he knew much like the palm of his hand: intimate, close, loyal, boring, familiar, familiar.

There was another knock on the door.

The blow to his head had been a knock. He had been so engaged in thinking that it had hurt when his concentration had been broken. The knock was harder now, but it did not hurt at all. Tout, beer in hand, walked slowly to the door. The floor creaked below his feet, but there was yet a third knock when he had put his hand on the handle, already turning.

The knob had turned as far as it could travel, and his palm slipped across it as he continued to twist. His palm was sweaty. He pulled the door open. He looked as if he had just fallen out of a deep sleep.

He nearly thrust the door closed again.

The vestibule light was off, and there were but three tea lights burning in the apartment. The door obscured two of them, and the third was directly behind him. The only light bounced around him, hitting her face indirectly. But he would have known the face in darkness; even with the music playing he knew the sound of her breath. If he hadn't been so deep in thought when she had knocked, he would have known that, too, he thought.

He stood there, feeling his hair turning grey, the vitality draining out of him.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

"Death is of the greatest insignificance"

Jeremy Tout felt nothing happening, he felt himself suffering the greatest insignificance. His breathing had stopped; the beer was slipping from his finger. All of the weight of his body was suddenly below his knees, the rest of him a shell and ready to float away.

He had fouled his once chance to slam the door closed before this happened. But hope had trumped experience, instinct was bested by longing. He had failed to do the hard thing, and now he was suffering a long death.

She stood there, looking back at him, inspecting him, critiquing him. He felt her breath, and he shuddered. Her gaze moved upon him and felt lighter than a feather across his skin. The hair on the neck, in a last act of desperation, stood straight. He could feel his heart dying.

He exhaled.

Time returned to normal. His palm had been sweating, but now everything was. It seemed as if he had sweat through his shirts in a matter of seconds. Chemicals were coursing through his body in a way that he could only begin to understand, in a way he could not control.

He inhaled.

Control seemed to return. He released the doorknob, and transferred the beer to that hand, to try and stem the sweat. He swallowed. "Come in."

He slowly backed away from the door, pivoting to his right, as if he were but an extension of the wooden thing. She crossed the threshold, a step at first, examining the lay of the furniture, and then advanced ahead a second step. She was clear of the door.

Tout closed the door behind her, and turned to her. She was facing away from him. He looked at the back of her head, trying to focus his mind. His glance drifted down...

but he marshaled his control and placed his eyes directly on the back of her head again. He forced himself to take a quick swig of beer, trying to regain some sense of normalcy.

This, of course, would have been normal five years ago.

He walked ahead of her a step, to the coffee table, and set his beer down. Again, he turned, this time to her. "Can I take your coat?"

She nodded, and they came together for a moment. He put his left hand on her left shoulder, gently grasping to coat, while she lowered that side of her body, allowing the wool that had draped her figure to gently slide down her arm. Her arm was not stiff, but fell to her side straight. He moved behind her, taking up the coat, as she arched her shoulders as if to stretch, only to let the slack in her body move to the right side. The rest of the coat fell away from her, limp, into his hands.

He hanged her coat from the tree next to the door. She had already seated herself.

"Something to drink?"

She gently shook her head.

Tout nodded, and walked to the end of the couch: his spot, next to the dorm fridge. He bent over, and put that clammy left hand on the bottle of whiskey, and thought better. He left his hand there for a moment, though, and tried to herd the tomcats running around inside his gut and head.

He stooped further, and grabbed another beer from the fridge. He carefully set it down on the table, and collected the first can, finishing the last drink. He walked to the garbage and dropped the empty vessel in.

He returned to his seat, his spot. He sat, and leaned forward, opening the second beer. The sound was the same, the sound was somehow different. The furnace was running, but he was cold. The flicker of the tea lights looked more like that from the cheap fluorescent in the kitchen than warm candle fire.

He again forced himself to drink.

"How are you?" he asked. There was a bit of beer in his mustache, and a stream dribbled down his chin, wetting his beard as well.

She cocked her head and squinted, almost imperceptibly. Wrong question.

"How's Frank?"

"He's dead." Again the weight inside shifted. He was sitting. His feet were iron bricks, his ass, lead. He thought he might sink through the couch, and fall through the floor beneath. Gravity would pull him to the center of the earth.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

He closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them again. The light from the tea lights was still cold. Any warmth had left now; he was cold, almost shivering. He was sweating again, more.


She scoffed. "You killed him."

He grimaced, and set his jawbone like a stone, pushing his tongue out against his teeth, probing them, making sure they hadn't rotted and fallen away. He forced another drink of beer, and, trembling, poured more whiskey. The beer in his left hand, the bottle in his right.

"I really wish you would quit drinking."

He took a long drink of the whiskey. It, too, dribbled down his chin, and a few drops dripped onto his chest. He took another long drink, emptying the glass. He set it down on the fridge, and he lighted another Marlboro.

"Drinking won't bring him back. It won't make you feel better, either."

He could feel that insignificance boiling up in him again, like a fire leaving only ashes behind. He took a drag.

"When is the service?" He drank beer.


They both sat there in silence for a few moments. He finished his cigarette, and punched it out in the ashtray. She reached her hand out, now stiff, like there were competing forces at work. She wiggled her hand in a circle, twice. Tout handed her the ashtray, and she removed a small pipe from a purse Tout had not noticed. She produced a lighter, and put spark to bowl.

"That won't help either, Rachel." He drank beer.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

Tout hadn't done much for Frank.

"It helps me deal with you." Her voice was flat. She inhaled and coughed a moment later. "I'll have a drink of water."

Tout walked to the kitchen, fumbling for a glass in the near darkness. He opened the freezer, and grabbed a handful of ice cubes, and then poured water. He took the glass to the couch, and offered it to her.

His arm was half extended, with the glass at its terminus. She finished inhaling, and set the pipe down, taking the water. She snorted a wisp of smoke out of her nose, and exhaled a moment later. She coughed again, and drank water.

Tout drank beer.

Again she stuck her arm out. "You want some?"

Tout shook his head. "I've got enough vices as it is."

"If man is the sum of his vices, you're the biggest man around." She sipped water. "Didn't you have a bumper sticker that said that once?"

"No, I just said it a lot."

She tapped the bowl against the ashtray, and then smoked what she had missed.

"Well, you were half right anyway."

Tout lighted another cigarette.

"If man were the sum of his vices, you would be the biggest man around. But man isn't the sum of his vices. You are a real piece of shit." She said the last sentence with a diction that could cut smoke.

"What happened to Frank?"

She snorted, this time because something was funny.

"I told you, you killed him. He drank himself into old age, and old age killed him, and you drove him to drink."

"Why are you here?"

"I just wanted to let you know what I think of you." With that, she stood and grabbed her coat. She did not turn around, and she did not even put the coat on. She transferred the purse into her right hand, under the coat draped over her right arm, and she opened the door. She did not bother to close it.

Tout drank beer.

He could hear her footsteps walking down the vestibule. The outer door opened. He heard the screen door creak on dry hinges. The screen door slammed shut. The phone rang.

Tout drank beer.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

The phone rang.

Tout drank beer.

The phone rang.

"Hello." Tout said into the receiver, as a pronouncement, not a greeting.

"You're supposed to follow me you asshole." Cell phones don't click when they hang up. But she was gone.

Tout stood.

"May god be with you on your quest for a clue"

Tout walked to the vestibule, and then turned the corner, breaking into a trot. He managed to get to and through the screen door without killing himself or destroying the door. Rachel was walking, at the end of the block, Tout stiffened his pace. She was crossing the street now, to a car parked in a gap between the street lights.

Tout didn't run to the end of the block, but crossed diagonal. She slammed the door. He was running toward the rear of the sedan. He couldn't see inside.

The car started. It began to pull away.

Tout was nearly there now. At the stop sign, the car did stop. The right turn signal flashed. The car went around the corner as Tout jumped the curb feet away. He fell into the car, which stopped.

Tout collected himself, and feebly stood. He approached the passenger door, and fumbled for the handle. As he pulled, and noted that it was locked, the window slid down.

As the tinted window disappeared, things behind it became visible. First Tout saw his sister, who was staring straight ahead. The window continued upon its descent. Then Tout saw his father.

The warmth was back. The street lights were a pleasant golden, and their radiation reflected off of dew down on the dirt and the grass and the road. This was the wrong car. He felt dizzy, like he had bumped his head or drank too much drink. Where had the other car gone?

"Hello, Jeremy," his father whispered. "How are you son?"

Tout collapsed against the saloon, slumping down against it. He felt the wet of the pavement soak through his jeans and then his undergarment. His back was against the door, and he was drained.

He felt his father's hand in his hair, tousling it like when he was a child.

"I had a nightmare," Tout said, also a whisper.

"Death is the ultimate insignificance"

"It's alright. I'm here. You're with me now."

Tout was getting wet. Was it raining? His pants were soaked, and the dew had crept up to his gut now.

"Where's sis?" he bumbled.

"I'm here," she said, but coldly.

"I'm here," Tout said.

"I'm here," his father whispered.

He stood there, feeling his hair turning grey, the vitality draining out of him.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

"Death is of the greatest insignificance"

Jeremy Tout felt nothing happening, he felt himself suffering the greatest insignificance. His breathing had stopped; the beer was slipping from his finger. All of the weight of his body was suddenly below his knees, the rest of him a shell and ready to float away.

He had fouled his once chance to slam the door closed before this happened. But hope had trumped experience, instinct was bested by longing. He had failed to do the hard thing, and now he was suffering a long death.

The dew was heavy and coming faster now. His gut and his pants were wet. His was standing in a puddle, his vitality flowing out of him as if she had turned on a spigot.

She was looking into his eyes, and he gazed back at her. She was crying. She crouched down on her knees, and put the gun on the floor. She stood again, looking into his eyes, and he gazed back at her.

"The least you can do to a man is kill him"

she said, crying freely now. Tout could feel the insignificance building, the moisture descending.

She stood there, looking back at him, inspecting him, critiquing him. He felt her breath, and he shuddered. Her gaze moved upon him and felt lighter than a feather across his skin. The hair on the neck, in a last act of desperation, stood straight. He could feel his heart dying.

He exhaled.

He collapsed.

She joined him.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Another deer pic

I still find it a little bit mind-blowing that deer around here are docile enough that you can walk up to them and pet them.

Perhaps I'll manage to put together a substantive post, the first in well over a month, here this afternoon. But I wouldn't hold my breath, if I were you.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

"You can't put my name on this."

In the newspaper business, there is often confusion/discussion/argument over how to deal with anonymous sources. For the last couple of years now, you'll see the New York Times, Washington Post, and others writing along the lines of "A high level campaign source, who wished not to be named as he was not authorized to be discussing the campaign..."

Ugh, that's bullshit. First of all, it doesn't tell me anything, really. The guy isn't supposed to be talking, so of course he doesn't want to be named. I don't need to be told that. Second of all, my cynicism runs deep: the boss (in the campaign, in the above hypothetical) probably told him to speak sans attribution.

Well, then, comes a piece about U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who, well, happens to be running for president. Toward the end of the story, appears this graph:

McCain may have a bit of a vindictive streak. "John has an enemies list longer than Nixon's," says a former Pentagon official who did not want to get on it. "And, unlike Nixon, McCain really does try to get you." After the Boeing scandal, three Air Force officials who quit all found that one of McCain's top aides had quietly spread word around the defense community that anyone hiring them would risk the senator's displeasure. And he still has an impetuosity that is nervous-making to old foreign-policy hands. One of them, a former high official in several Republican administrations who occasionally advises McCain (and wishes to continue to) worries to NEWSWEEK about McCain's "quirky" judgment and his unwillingness to change his mind once it's made up. (Emphasis mine.)
Wow! Neither of these turns of phrase are perfect -- and I doubt that perfect utterance exists. But they smack of honesty. (Cynic in me: Duh. That's why they're so bad.) At any rate, at least Newsweek is making an effort. I didn't see a real byline, so I can't gush for anyone in particular.

I dunno, but those two little snipped jumped off the page at me. What do you think?