LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Trenton Hostage Case Puts Spotlight On Unregistered Sex Offenders

By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
NJ Today

Last weekend in Trenton, a man held three children hostage for 37 hours while state and local police tried to negotiate a surrender.

In Pennsylvania, Gerald Murphy was a registered sex offender, but his neighbors and authorities in Trenton didn’t know that.

Murphy had shot and killed his girlfriend and stabbed to death one of her five children.

The other children were freed when police stormed the house and killed Murphy.

The Trenton hostage case raises the question of whether there’s a loophole in Megan’s Law that enables a registered sex offender to move without reporting it — in other words — whether Megan’s Law relies too much on an honor system.

“An honor system among sex offenders is kind of like an oxymoron, isn’t it? asked Richard Pompelio.

Pompelio founded and runs the New Jersey Crime Victims Law Center. He believes Megan’s Law might work better if only the most serious offenders had to register, saying “One of the criticisms of Megan’s Law probably from the beginning is that it’s trying to accomplish too much. It’s trying to cover too many people.”

There are nearly 15,000 registered sex offenders in New Jersey alone.

But Laura Hook, who has run the Union County prosecutor’s Megan’s Law unit for seven years, says the law in this state “is” working well.

“Hurricane Sandy, everybody thought we were going to lose all these displaced sex offenders. And the different counties were amazing at how they were able to know where all their sex offenders were. Because in New Jersey, we’re very lucky, we have something that none of the other states have which is parole supervision for life for most convicted sex offenders and parole supervision for life means these sex offenders have parole officers that they have to report to,” explained Hook.

We’re still trying to do too much, Pompelio says.

“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “The immature 18-year old guy who’s dating a 14-year old girl. That’s his girlfriend. Before you know it. Her parents find out. He’s now a Megan’s Law violator. And you have people like that in the system, and there’s been a lot of questioning — is that what we should be looking at? I mean who are we protecting? Are we wasting resources?”

But Hook paints a picture of a law working well, at least here in New Jersey.

She said, “None of the laws are 100 percent foolproof, but I find our sex offender management with the parole of incredible assistance.”

Like guns, the problem seems to get magnified by what comes in from other states.