Tougher sex-crime penalties sought

GOP candidate for Va. attorney general wants ‘two-strikes’ exception

BY MICHAEL HARDY
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER

Aug 19, 2005

Robert F. McDonnell, the Republican running for the job of state attorney
general, proposed yesterday that criminals be imprisoned for at least 25
years for committing major sex offenses against children under the age of
13.

Additionally, predators convicted of rape, sodomy or object penetration
would later face up to a lifetime of monitoring under a global
positioning system.

A second offense would require the predators to spend life behind bars,
he said.

“Two strikes and you’re out!” said McDonnell of the proposed special
exception to the state’s three-time-loser laws.

A former prosecutor and state delegate from Virginia Beach, McDonnell
argued that the additional punishment would make Virginia’s sex-offender
statutes among the toughest in the nation.

“These criminals cannot be rehabilitated and are likely to commit new
crimes,” he said.

McDonnell said state statistics show that one in three such criminals
will commit another crime within five years of release from prison.

“It’s fairly chilling. . . . The hopes for rehabilitation are almost
nil,” he said.

His proposal, crafted by a Crime Commission panel on which he serves,
also is needed because of the vulnerability of the victims. The current
Virginia law committing a few sexually violent predators to special
facilities isn’t enough, he said.

“We need to be tougher on child predators,” he said of the plan, which
was modeled on a Florida law passed after a notorious case there.

McDonnell said his plan is “cheaper, it’s fairer and it’s more effective”
to deal with violent sexual predators.

The proposals would require approval of the General Assembly next winter
to become law.

Under the state’s current sentencing structure, judges can impose
sentences of five years to life for rape, sodomy or object penetration.
In practice, median sentences have been 12 years in prison, he said. The
maximum penalty would remain a life sentence for a first-time offender.

McDonnell told reporters that his latest series of proposals are more
comprehensive and innovative than those of Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, the Bath
County Democrat who is running against McDonnell in the Nov. 8 election.

But Peter Jackson, the chief spokesman for Deeds, countered yesterday
that Deeds has been a leader in sex-offender legislation in the General
Assembly.

“Creigh Deeds has been out front on this issue since 1994,” Jackson said.
“He introduced Megan’s Law [creating a sex-offender registry] and Amber
Alert” to track down missing children.

As an example of the problem in Virginia, McDonnell pointed to the recent
case of Lorenzo Townes in Richmond. On July 13, Townes, 49, who had spent
most of the past 32 years in prison for a series of crimes, was arrested
on charges of forcible sodomy, abduction and attempted rape of a
13-year-old North Side girl.

Originally convicted in 1973 for the rape of a 10-year-old girl in
Campbell County, Townes was released from a state treatment center just
four months before the recent charges.

McDonnell said that since 2003, about 927 sex offenders have been
eligible for postsentence commitment to a secure treatment center but
that only 14 have been sent there.

There is a dramatic difference between the costs of criminal and civil
confinement. It costs Virginia taxpayers $23,000 a year to imprison a
felon, compared with about $118,000 annually for a year of civil
confinement with expansive treatment, he said.

© 2005, Media General, Inc.

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