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Sex offender registry 'uncharted waters' in W.Va., expert says

December 09, 1998|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Publicizing the names of 14 registered sex offenders in Berkeley County will be a learning process for everyone involved, said the head of a shelter that works with battered women.

"These are uncharted waters for the whole state," said Ann Smith, executive director of the Shenandoah Women's Center.

Smith was on hand at Martinsburg High School Monday night for the public release of a list of 14 of Berkeley County's 37 registered sex offenders. A new state law requires state police to publicize the names of lifetime members of West Virginia's sex offender registry.

Discussing the pros and cons of releasing the list, Smith said it can be a valuable tool for adults to alert themselves and their children to sex offenders who might commit another crime.

Smith, however, is concerned that the list could be used by vigilantes trying to drive sex offenders out of their neighborhoods.

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"It will be interesting to see how this comes together and how it plays out," she said.

Smith said there has been much community interest in the sex offender list and that she was surprised when only five people showed up for the forum.

"I was very shocked by the amount of people there," she said. "I thought there would be more social service agencies there."

Smith attributed the low turnout to a lack of media coverage and the availability of the information on the Internet.

Web surfers looking for the Berkeley County list on the Internet Tuesday, however, were out of luck.

State police officials in Charleston, W.Va., said the names were supposed to be posted on the West Virginia State Police Web site early Tuesday, but the trooper responsible for updating the site was tied up in morning meetings.

"It should have gone on-line this morning," said Sgt. Tom Barrick, director of criminal records for the West Virginia State Police.

The Berkeley County sex offender registry is maintained by the Martinsburg state police barracks, but the actual list is only available on the Internet or by a written request to the West Virginia State Police Criminal Records Division in South Charleston, W.Va.

The 23 other individuals on Berkeley County's list are only required to register for 10 years after the date of their conviction. The release of those names requires a circuit court order and is usually given to school districts and employers who serve the young or elderly, officials said.

Barrick, one of the state police representatives at Monday's meeting, said the sex offender notification meeting held earlier this year in Kanawha County drew more than 100 people, but a similar meeting in Cabell County drew about 15.

Barrick said he expects most people have been getting the sex offender lists off the Internet. Barrick said the state police Internet site got as many hits - 700 - the day after the Cabell County names were posted as the site usually gets in a week.

Barrick said the criminal records division received a few phone calls when the lists for Kanawha and Cabell counties were released, but there have not been many written requests for the lists.

Police said the names, descriptions, and in some cases, photos of the sex offenders will be available at the state police Internet site at www.wvstatepolice.com. The list is also available by mail by contacting the state police sex offender registry at 725 Jefferson St., South Charleston, W.Va., 25309 or 1-304-746-2133.

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