Chris Uggen's Blog: murder of washington sex offenders

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

murder of washington sex offenders

I've written at some length about the hyper-stigma that accompanies the "sex offender" label in the contemporary United States. Whenever I even hint that this stigma may hinder rather than help public safety, as in this AP story in June, I'm swamped with supportive calls and emails from sex offenders and their families and vaguely threatening or accusing mail from others. And, of course, breathless invitations to appear on cable news shows as "liberal punching bag o' the day." [Can you believe it, this guy actually thinks sex offenders have it too tough?] Now comes this story from the Seattle Times and Bellingham Herald:

BELLINGHAM — Last Friday night, a man claiming to be an FBI agent dropped in on three Level 3 sex offenders living together, supposedly to warn them of an Internet "hit list" targeting sex offenders. The man was not an FBI agent, but he may have been enforcing a hit list of his own creation. Two of the roommates were found dead early Saturday of gunshot wounds, and Bellingham police are investigating a crime that authorities say may be one of the nation's most serious cases of vigilantism aimed at sex offenders. The killings also highlight a potential problem about Washington's 1990 law requiring sex offenders to register their addresses so the public can keep track of them.

Yes, if the story checks out as reported, I guess murder qualifies as a potential problem. Given the demonization of sex offenders, I'm certain that few will shed tears over these murders. I'm also sure that the vigilante had never read the Bureau of Justice Statistics report or large research literature showing low recidivism rates of sex offenders relative to other former prisoners. Yet our FBI imposter/wannabe was well-informed on two counts: (1) he knew that "level-three sex offenders" Hank Eisses, 49, James Russell, 42, and Victor Vasquez, 68 could be found at 2825 Northwest Avenue; and, (2) he knew the specific details of their crimes -- offenses that took place in 1997, 1994, and 1991, respectively. Clearly one cannot blame the print or broadcast media, or the state department of corrections, or local law enforcement, or the state legislature for the actions of an accused vigilante. Nevertheless, the case raises troubling questions about whether the policies of each institution are best serving the public interest. To my knowledge, there is no clear evidence of less new sex offending in communities that impose greater stigma. Lacking such evidence, I fear that the moral panic exemplified by current notification procedures is a net loss for public safety.

Even years before their scheduled release, both male and female prisoners have told me they feared "the internet" and public availability of information about them. Rest assured that the Bellingham murder story will quickly make the rounds of every TV room and sex offender unit in state penitentiaries. It is not a story of deterrence that will keep them from future crime. It is not a story of redemption or martyrdom that will give them strength as they work through the tough times. It is instead a story of the hysterical vigilante lying in wait, a story that embodies their fears about life after prison and their dim prospects for ever becoming a normal citizen in a community. And it makes them wonder why the hell they should go to treatment.

15 Comments:

At 9:49 PM, Blogger Mischelle said...

FYI - There was an incident in Maryland last week involving the murder of a registered sex offender. Here is the link to the story.

http://www.nbc4.com/news/4899749/detail.html

 
At 10:22 PM, Anonymous chris said...

Mischelle, Another awful story -- both that a 13 year old kid was assaulted and that the accused was killed without trial. One distinction is that there's no mention in the Washington case of any reoffending since '97 -- it sounds like a pre-emptive strike rather than a response to a new crime. Disturbing as it is to think about these issues, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know if you come across more on this Maryland case.

 
At 9:57 AM, Anonymous sarah said...

I'm wondering if you saw The Woodsman and if so, what you thought about it. I don't know about the portrayal of recovery (as I don't know much about this in general), but I thought the depiction of the stigma facing ex-sex-offenders was pretty compelling. Probably Kevin Bacon's crowning achievement as an actor (now, I'm not trying to down play the genius of "Footloose" or anything...)

 
At 10:28 AM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

No, Sarah, I haven't seen it. I saw Bacon talking about it on Charlie Rose or something and gained respect for him -- thoughtful and insightful. I remember connecting strongly with his performance in "Diner" (as a smartass wasting his potential).

 
At 10:33 AM, Anonymous sarah said...

I would be interested in your response to it if you ever see it. It's not a long film and it's quite good! I will have to check out "Diner."

 
At 1:29 PM, Blogger Penn State Punk said...

These acts seem closely tied to some of Katz's work on "Righteous Slaughter"

 
At 2:38 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

True, every murderer thinks they are "defending the good" in some way.

 
At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Kathryn said...

Chris,
I am a freelance writer in Springfield, MO working on a September mag story about our city's registered sex offenders. The topic is huge and I have 4000 words. I can't see writing a SO story without interviewing one or more registered SOs. What is appropriate and optimal, in your opinion,for finding interviewees, gathering info, and conducting intelligent interviews?
-KL

 
At 7:31 AM, Anonymous Atchuthan Sriskandarajah said...

This article regarding the demonization of sex offenders is very accurate. I am an attorney in Virginia and I currently have a case before the Virginia Supreme Court regarding the registration of sex offenders. In essence, the 2002 Sex Offenders Registration Act retroactively required those who were convicted of sex offenses and subsequently reclassified as violent sex offenders without any basis for the reclassification to register every 90 days for the rest of their life. This is a violation of their constitution rights. I only hope the Virginia Supreme Court agrees.

 
At 2:23 AM, Blogger Ben said...

I have to agree, as bad as the people 's past actions may be, we still have to live with these people. A: We can't lock them away forever, and B: We should not set a death penalty as the standard with dealing with sex offenders. That being said this just goes to prove that our jail/prison system is broken. We can not allow such vigilantes to run free, for they pose a threat to those who are innocent of crime.

Say for example one of these sex offenders is married, or in this case that someone who had nothing to do with the past crimes. The vigilante obviously could either "accidentally" kill such a person or intentionally kills such a person for they are a witness. The best solution is to try and live with such people. Society is right to be suspicious/cautious of such people, but to fail to give them the right to become proactive citizens only insures that they will forever be dangerous/harmful to society.

 
At 11:48 AM, Blogger to weak said...

i am a sex offender. as i read pages like this it distroys my life just a little more. my crime is 20 yrs old. yet i still hear "we don't need your kind working here." "you can't live here."and most of all the humileation of every time i apply for a new job i pull the scab off of a infected wound once again. maybe the death penilty is't so bad after all.

 
At 8:35 AM, Blogger cyoteone said...

I have. I designed a victim prevention program that will work. But no one has taken me serious. People dont want a solution. They would rather point the finger and hide their head in the sand. My program would reach out to offenders for constant treatment. Get them involved and become part of it. To graduate and become councel in it. When you take a negative vibe and put it in a positive motion then you find the cure. This program can and will seek out and discover the unknown preditors for when they come forward they are more apt to give signals that will give away their true nature. Offenders, or what i call opressors will be catergorized into one of the three C's. Curable, controlable or convictable. I have contacted Montel, Opra and John walshes Americas most wanted and failed at all of them. The name of this program is Open Site. Onerous Prevention Educational Need. Silence Is The Enemy! Jusy remember, It is not the Person you know about that is potentially dangerous but rather the ones you dont know about. This challenge is to all who read this and are ready to revent victims. "

 
At 8:41 AM, Blogger cyoteone said...

. I have designed a victim prevention program that will work. But no one has taken it serious. People dont want a solution. They would rather point the finger and hide their head in the sand. My program would reach out to offenders for constant treatment. Get them involved and become part of it. To graduate and become councel in it. When you take a negative vibe and put it in a positive motion then you find the cure. This program can and will seek out and discover the unknown preditors for when they come forward they are more apt to give signals that will give away their true nature. Offenders, or what i call opressors will be catergorized into one of the three C's. Curable, controlable or convictable. I have contacted Montel, Opra and John walshes Americas most wanted and failed at all of them. The name of this program is Open Site. Onerous Prevention Educational Need. Silence Is The Enemy! Jusy remember, It is not the Person you know about that is potentially dangerous but rather the ones you dont know about. This challenge is to all who read this and are ready to revent victims. "

 
At 11:44 AM, Blogger James said...

Say for example one of these sex offenders is married, or in this case that someone who had nothing to do with the past crimes. The vigilante obviously could either "accidentally" kill such a person or intentionally kills such a person for they are a witness. The best solution is to try and live with such people. Society is right to be suspicious/cautious of such people, but to fail to give them the right to become proactive citizens only insures that they will forever be dangerous/harmful to society.
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At 12:45 PM, Blogger BusinessLawGirl101 said...

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