Washington Lawmakers Consider Changes In Sex-Offender Laws

November 29, 2005

By KOMO Staff & News Services

OLYMPIA – A triple murder and child abduction in Idaho likely will prompt
Washington legislators to push for changes in how convicted sex offenders
are treated here.

Joseph E. Duncan III, convicted of child rape in Washington in 1980, is
in an Idaho jail, accused of killing several members of a family so he
could abduct and sexually assault two young children.

Proposals being floated for the session that begins Jan. 6 include
tougher sentences for sex offenders who fail to register with police,
lifetime satellite monitoring of convicted sex offenders and renewal of a
law that bars offenders from living near schools and other areas where
children gather.

“There’s going to be a lot of pressure this session to get something
done,” said Rep. Al O’Brien, D-Mountlake Terrace, chairman of the House
Criminal Justice and Corrections committee.

Rep. Jim Clements, R-Selah, co-chairman of a state task force on sex
offender management, said more proposals are likely when the task force
releases its recommendations next month.

Duncan, 42, of Fargo, N.D., is charged with three counts of first-degree
murder in Kootenai County, Idaho, in the deaths of Brenda Groene, her
boyfriend Mark McKenzie and her 13-year-old son Slade Groene. He has
pleaded not guilty, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Authorities allege Duncan killed the victims so he could abduct
8-year-old Shasta Groene and her brother Dylan, 9, for sex. Federal
authorities say they plan to charge Duncan with kidnapping and murder for
taking the children to Montana, where Dylan died.

The first task-force proposal calls for electronic monitoring: an anklet
or other device linked to Global Positioning System satellites that would
enable police to monitor an offender’s whereabouts at any time.

“I think most people would like a test program on some of these folks,
especially for transients,” Clements said. “A lot of them don’t want to
tell you where they’re living, and they lie.”

Another proposal calls for prison time for sex offenders who fail to
register with police. The current registration law makes failure to
register a Class C felony, typically netting little or no time in a local

In Idaho, failure to register can land a sex offender back in prison for
up to five years.

Some lawmakers are balking at the potential cost, O’Brien said. Last
year, more than 600 sex offenders failed to register in Washington, where
incarceration costs $26,000 a year.

“Six hundred times $26,000 and you’re running into some real money,” he

Clements last year pushed House Bill 1147, which banned the most serious
sex offenders from living within an 880-foot radius of a school. But at
hearings this summer, even some victims’ advocates questioned whether
such no-go zones drive sex offenders into rural areas or homelessness.

Renewing and refining the 880-foot “community protection zone” around
schools also will be on the table in Olympia, Clements said. The key is
to keep the zones small so sex offenders are not forced into rural areas
with fewer police and treatment options, he said.

“We run into a problem if we put a circle around everything,” O’Brien

Treatment and monitoring are better long-term answers than trying to
establish zones, said Sen. Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

“That’s not going to make sex offenders go away,” she said. “It kind of
looks better than it is in terms of really reducing crime.”

Duncan’s career as a sex offender began at age 17, when he raped a
14-year-old Tacoma boy at gunpoint. Some lawmakers note that he was
released without supervision because his 1980 crime predated current,
tougher laws that mandate lifelong supervision.

Duncan, who has spent much of his life in prison in Washington state, was
released in 2000.

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