by Matthew T. Clarke
A violent criminal predator used Maine's sex offender registry web site to identify two sex offenders so he could murder them.
Stephen A. Marshall, 20, of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, used his laptop to methodically research the information posted on 34 registered sex offenders in Maine. He typed in his name to receive additional information, including the street addresses of the sex offenders. He used the addresses to locate William Elliot, 24, of Corinth, Maine, and Joseph Gray, 57, residing in Milo, Maine, whom he then murdered in their homes.
Elliot was nineteen when he was convicted in 2002 of having sex with his girlfriend, who was about to turn sixteen. Gray was convicted of sexually assaulting a child under fourteen. Had Marshall used an alias, police might never have discovered how he obtained the men's information.
On April 11, 2006, Marshall arrived at his 61-year-old father's home in Houlton, Maine. Two nights later he disappeared, along with his father's truck and three guns.
At 3:00 a.m. on April 14, 2006, Gray's wife, investigating why their dogs were barking, saw a man in a dark jacket outside their home. She awakened her husband, who was sleeping on the couch. The man fired through the window, fatally wounding Gray.
Twenty-four miles away and five hours later, Elliot was fatally shot when he answered the door to his trailer. His girlfriend took down the license plate of the shooter's vehicle. It belonged to Marshall's father.
The truck Marshall was driving was discovered at the bus station in Bangor, Maine; Marshall had been seen getting on the 1:45 p.m. Vermont Transit Lines bus to Boston. A few minutes before it arrived at the Boston bus station, police pulled the bus over. They asked the driver to turn on the interior lights. Seconds later, Marshall shot himself in the head with a .45 caliber pistol. Emergency personnel and police also discovered a loaded .22 caliber pistol and a laptop computer among Marshall's possessions.
The computer gave some insight into the soft-spoken restaurant dishwasher's life. It contained an on-line blog showing him to be vitriolic about pedophiles and enamored of firearms. It also revealed that he was a lonely man who targeted homosexuals, minorities and women. One section of his blog, entitled "How to Kill Yourself Like a Man," discussed suicide techniques. However, the blog gave no specific reason as to why Marshall committed the murders. Marshall was not a known victim of sexual abuse but did have a juvenile arrest for brandishing an assault rifle during an altercation on his front lawn.
Following the deaths of Elliot and Gray, Maine's Dept. of Public Safety announced it had no intention of changing the state's on-line sex offender registry, which was temporarily disabled during the police investigation but quickly restored. It remains active and publicly available today.
The murders committed by Marshall were not the first vigilante killings of registered sex offenders. On August 27, 2005, Michael Anthony Mullen, 35, used the Whatcom County (Washington State) sex offender registry to identify and locate two sex offenders, whom he then murdered. [See: PLN, Feb. 2006, p. 40]. Mullen gained access to the house where Victor Vasquez, 68, and Hank Eisses, 49, lived by posing as an FBI agent investigating a hit list of sex offenders purportedly posted on the Internet. He then interviewed them, found them worthy of death, and murdered them. Mullen pleaded guilty to two counts of second degree murder on March 10, 2006, and was sentenced to 44 years in prison.
There have been other violent but non-fatal vigilante crimes against sex offenders. A New Hampshire man stabbed a registered sex offender and set fire to the residences of two others in 2003. Some of the violence directed at registered sex offenders has accidentally victimized others. A Dallas man was severely beaten after moving into an apartment where a sex offender formerly resided. And a New Jersey man, mistaken for his sex-offender brother, was beaten nearly to death with a baseball bat.
Most recently, the possibility of vigilante justice has been raised in connection with a proposed Ohio law that would require convicted sex offenders to use fluorescent green license plates on their vehicles. Ohio Rep. Bill Seitz (R) noted that the high-profile plates could place family members who use sex offenders' cars in danger of vigilante violence.
That the public dissemination of sex offenders' names, photos and addresses has resulted in violence against them should hardly be a surprise. "We spend a great deal of public and private energy demonizing these types of offenders," said William Buckman, a New Jersey defense attorney whose clients have suffered harassment and house arson. "So, it's predictable that they will be the victims of violence and vigilantism."
"These laws are almost a confession by the state that we have done all that we can, you must now take the defense of your family into your own hands," said John LaFond, a retired University of Missouri Law School professor and author of the book, Preventing Sexual Violence: How Society Should Cope With Sex Offenders. "It's almost an invitation to vigilantism."
Other critics of the current sex offender registration scheme note there is no evidence that such registries have prevented any crimes, and that they make reintegration into society difficult. They argue that sex offender registries should be limited to violent sex offenders who are likely to commit future crimes, and the dissemination of information be restricted to people living in the neighborhoods where those sex offenders live. After all, what was the necessity of having sex offenders' personal information available to a Canadian citizen who was visiting his father in another town far from where either of the ex-offenders lived?
"Questions are starting to be raised, but no one really knows if they are doing any good or any harm," said Elizabeth Joyce, spokesperson for the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, noting that no one knows if sex offender registries help reduce the number of sex offenses. "The more outrageous, hideous and terrible crimes that take place, the more people want a solution, and these lists are one thing that legislatures are putting in place."
Most supporters of the registries simply don't care if there is a risk to registered sex offenders.
"There are some people on the other side of the coin who think it's time for people to stand up for the victims [of sex offenders]," said Massachusetts state senator Scott Brown (R-Wrentham), who is sponsoring a bill to expand the state's sex offender registration requirements. "I still think the public's right to know and be able to keep their children safe outweighs any restrictions we put on this."
Which is part of the tragedy of the public's attitude toward sex offenders. Anything society does to them is okay, while anything they do to become law-abiding citizens is disregarded. Even the fact that sex offenders have among the lowest recidivism rate of all prisoners is ignored or denied. It's interesting to note that, had Marshall not committed suicide and been convicted and imprisoned for his crimes, upon release he would not have had to register with anyone despite having committed two cold-blooded murders. Yet Elliot, whose crime was having an underage girlfriend when he was 19, was hounded by the unforgiving howls of the media-frenzied public; literally hounded to death.
Sources: Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Portland (ME) Press Herald, Boston Herald, Boston Globe, United Press International
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