Emotional testimony given by family members of "sex offenders" say Missouri’s sex offender registry is too broadly defined.

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By DICK ALDRICH
Missouri News Horizon

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A Missouri House of Representatives’ committee heard emotional testimony Tuesday from family members of sex offenders who said Missouri’s sex offender registry is too broadly defined.

Lawmakers heard from a number of witnesses who said their loved ones, who committed relatively minor or technical sexual offenses in their youth, have been unfairly put into the same category as rapists and predatory child molesters. The committee is in the process of examining state’s laws related to sexual offenses and the use of the sex offender registry.

A wife told the committee of how her husband is banned from picking up his children from school, attending social functions with children and coaching his children’s sports teams because he is on the sexual offenders’ registry for having consensual sex with an underage girl when he was 19.

A father told committee members through a family spokesman how his 24-year-old son was arrested for an alleged sexual incident that occurred 12 years before, pleaded guilty and was placed on the sexual offenders list.

And a mother who said her son committed suicide after years on the offenders list for an incident that occurred when the boy was 14.

St. Louis attorney Matthew Fry told committee members he has represented more than 100 clients charged with sexual offenses. He told the committee that once offenders are added to the list, they will be permanently branded.

Those on the list aren’t allowed to live within 500 feet of a school, they aren’t allowed to celebrate occasions like Halloween, won’t be allowed in locations where children are present and more than likely not be able to get a  job.

“Frankly, I don’t know how they go on with their lives,” Fry said. “I don’t know why I haven’t heard of more of my clients...committing suicide. It is that extreme at this time in Missouri.”

The chairman of the committee, Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, sponsored legislation that passed the House of Representatives during the regular session last year that would have allowed for shorter periods of time on the offenders list depending on the specific nature of crimes committed. It also would have established an appeals process. The law failed to gain traction in the Senate.

But Highway Patrol Capt. Tim McGrail, the director of the patrol’s Criminal Justice Information Services section said lawmakers should not be in a rush to make it easier to remove a name from the sexual offenders list. Calling lawmakers’ attention to previous cases of sex offenders committing nationally notorious crimes, McGrail pointed to the offenders list as a crime fighting tool.

“So, okay, we take people off the list, what happens? That’s the question,” McGrail said. “What is the general public going to say when somebody who should be on the registry is not on the registry and something happens?”

The committee will continue taking testimony at the State Capitol Today.