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Offenders face life with label

October 03, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD

Editor's note: The real names of the sex offenders quoted in this story are not being used to protect the identities of their victims.

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Inmates once heckled him through prison bars. Now neighbors peer at him through windowpanes.

Ned wears a label imposed on him by a judge.

It's on the minds of those who know how it got there.

Ned knows even more people can find out.

His blurred photo, name and address have been posted on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry Web site for 20 months. Before that, Ned spent nine years in state prison for molesting his 7-year-old stepdaughter.

"Doesn't anybody forgive somebody?" Ned asked, perched on his living room couch. He answered his own question: "But they don't for this."

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The 63-year-old Ned, retired and on Social Security, rarely leaves his three-room, one-bath apartment in Hagerstown. A widescreen television spans the width of his dark living room. His companion, a miniature schnauzer named Miss Trudy, scurries back and forth the short distance from the couch to the kitchen.

If he goes outside, people seem to think he's looking for children, but if he stays inside, they seem to think, "Why are you hiding from everybody?" Ned said. "You can't win."

In June 1994, Ned was sentenced in Washington County Circuit Court to serve 15 years in prison for a second-degree sex offense conviction.

His stepdaughter endured his abuse for four years. It began when she was 7 years old and lasted until a few months after her 11th birthday.

Charging documents state Ned would fondle her, kiss her and perform oral sex on her during that period. He eventually tried to have intercourse with her.

The abuse ended one day when Ned was on top of her. When the girl pushed up to try to get away from him, Ned struck her in the face. When her mother returned home, the girl told her what had happened and she reported it to police, documents state.

Ned was ordered not to ever have contact with the girl. Her mother divorced him. His house was sold.

He said that he would never offend again. If he did re-offend, he said, he'd have to kill himself because he couldn't go through the ordeal again.

He didn't talk about what kind of ordeal the offense is for the victims. He did say that if he offended again, he might have to kill the victim before he killed himself.

Hagerstown therapist Kristen Casteline, who worked in July with 25 registered sex offenders who were ordered by the court to see her, said the registry "tends to have a pretty negative impact" on her clients.

In treatment, sex offenders need to figure out what triggered their offense so they can learn from it and move past it, she said. Their last step is to forgive themselves.

"We don't want them to forget what they did, but if they don't forgive, they get stuck," she said.

She said she believes anyone can be rehabilitated, but rehabilitation has to be a desired outcome.

Since the July interview, Casteline said that one of her clients had recently downloaded child pornography.

What one considers recidivism, or relapsing to prior criminal behavior, is up for debate, she said.

"My experience is, if the person is not a sexually violent predator, the recidivism is quite low," she said.

Casteline points to research that has said reoffense rates vary among different types of offenders, and relate to characteristics of the offender and the crime for which they were convicted.

She said her clients have told her that they get called "you child molester this, that and the other thing."

Casteline said, "The more stress they get, the harder it is for them to maintain" a normal existence.

A 44-year-old man, convicted of having sex with his stepdaughter, was one of six who responded to 102 surveys sent by certified mail by The Herald-Mail to those listed on the registry as living in a 21740 ZIP code. He said he has no privacy because "everyone knows where I live. Everyone knows where I work."

He said he wouldn't wish a registry on any other convicted criminal: "There is a fine line between your constitutional right to privacy and the government wanting to display you publicly. Nothing good ever comes from smearing someone publicly, it even drags the community down."

Casteline said she had a client whose landlord threatened to post his picture from the registry Web site all over the neighborhood if he didn't move.

"I think the registry, in theory, is a good idea. Unfortunately, it misses the boat entirely," she said.

She expressed concern that the Web site doesn't give enough information about the offenses for which her clients were convicted.

"I know exactly what these guys did ... Some of the descriptions make them look bad and others did something really bad and it doesn't do it justice," she said.

In weekly group therapy sessions, the subject of the registry does come up with her clients, she said.

"A lot of my guys say, 'I don't deserve sympathy for my crime ... but what I wish I could get is an opportunity to move on and do better and be a productive member of society,'" she said.

"A lot of us would have a hard time adjusting or becoming productive members of society if we weren't given opportunities," she said.

Some of the sex offenders are released from prison without having had treatment, she said. Some of those offenders, and others, have had 10 to 15 years behind bars to think about what they did.

Casteline said she tells them: "You can't change what people believe at this point. You may have to do things a little bit better."

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