On August 27, 2005, two registered sex offenders were murdered in Bellingham, Washington, by a vigilante posing as an FBI agent. The killer got the victims' names, address and photographs from the Whatcom County Sheriff's Sex Offender Notification Web Site.
In letters to Seattle Times reporter Mike Carter, Michael Anthony Mullen, 36, confessed and even bragged about murdering Victor Vazquez, 68, and Hank Eisses, 49. Mullen claimed that he was sickened and prompted to vigilante action when he learned the details of notorious case of Joseph Edward Duncan III, 42, a Tacoma, Washington, sex offender who is accused of having murdered three members of the Groene family in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in order to kidnap their two children to sexually abuse them. The body of one child, Dylan, 9, was recovered from a Montana campground. His sister, Shasta, 8, was rescued on July 2, 2005, at a restaurant in Coeur d'Alene.
The details of how the burly 6'-5" goateed and tatooed Mullen gained access to the Bellingham where the murders took place are well known. Eisses owned the small blue house with a white picket fence and had been renting a room to Vazquez. Both lived there quietly for over three years. Recently, another registered sex offender who had been released from prison five years earlier, James Russell, 42, had rented another room from Eisses. Russell was at home when Mullen arrived, wearing a blue jumpsuit and FBI-logo cap. Mullen claimed to be an FBI agent investigating the internet posting of a hit list" of registered sex offenders as a possible hate crime. Mullen then interviewed" the three. Russell soon had to leave for work. When he returned, he found his roommates dead of bullet wounds to the head.
Mullen stayed in the house about two hours interviewing" the men. He then called the same woman, an unknowing accomplice, who had given him a ride to the house, to pick him up. Mullen claims that he allowed Russell to leave because he showed remorse and murdered the others because they appeared to be bragging about their crimes. Mullen turned himself in on September 5, 2005, after having written several letters to media outlets threatening to kill other Washington state registered sex offenders. Prosecutors contest Mullen's version of events. They assert that he came to the house with the intent of murdering the men and that his claiming they expressed no remorse is merely his attempt to justify his deeds. Either way, Mullen claims he murdered the victims to send a message to other registered Washington sex offenders that abuse of children would not be tolerated.
This abuse of the information in the sex offender web site has led to a discussion on the sex offender registration laws Washington has had on the books since 1990. Washington was the first state to enact such a law, but the federal government has since required all 50 states to pass sex offender registration laws.
John Q. La Fond, retired law professor from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, believes the sex offender registration law should be repealed. Arguing on the behalf of the ACLU, he noted that research has proven sex offender registration and notification laws do not reduce the number of sex offenses or make the crimes easier to solve. Instead, it virtually invites society to take the law into their own hands." He referred to the laws as symbolic but futile gestures" of a society grappling with a complex problem.
Indeed, in this case, the vigilante punishment was inflicted on two sex offenders who had been living quiet lives, obeying all the laws, rules and regulations set down by the state for them. At the time his crimes were committed, Duncan was on the run for failing to register as a sex offender. Thus, it seems that the sex offender registration and notification laws may merely serve to make targets of the sex offenders who are obeying the law while doing nothing to help apprehend those who are violating the law.
Mullen, who has a long criminal history, mostly for nonviolent felonies such as theft and bad checks, now claims that his goal is to die before Duncan so he can be there when he arrives." Mullen's announced intention was to plead guilty and seek the death penalty. Instead, on March 10, 2006, Mullen pleaded guilty to two counts of second degree murder and was sentenced to 44 years in prison.
Sources: Seattle Times, Associated Press, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Houston Chronicle, Los Angeles Times.
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