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Vigilantes Assault, Rob and Murder Registered Sex Offenders

by Matt Clarke

As repeatedly reported in Prison Legal News, for over a decade registered sex offenders have been targeted by vigilantes and assaulted, robbed and murdered due to their past crimes. And as noted in this issue’s cover story, that is part of the dark side of sex offender registries, which allow public access to offenders’ residential addresses and other personal information. Such information not only endangers registered sex offenders but also those who live with them and, in at least one case in Dallas, Texas, an innocent victim. That Dallas man, who was beaten with a baseball bat, had simply moved into an apartment recently vacated by a sex offender.

PLN believes these incidents are more widespread and occur with greater frequency than reported in the mainstream media. [See, e.g.: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.49; June 2015, p.63; Feb. 2013, p.50; April 2007, p.18].

In one of the earliest cases of registry vigilantism, two registered sex offenders who were living in the same home in Bellingham, Washington were murdered in 2005 by a man who gained access to their residence by claiming to be an FBI agent investigating threats made against sex offenders. Hank Eisses, 49, and Victor Vasquez, 68, were gunned down by Michael Anthony Mullen, who later confessed to the crime. Mullen was convicted and sentenced to 44 years; he died in prison.

Stephen A. Marshall, 20, a Canadian citizen, used information from online registries to locate two sex offenders in Maine, killing them in separate incidents in April 2006. William Elliot, 24, and Joseph Gray, 57, were shot to death. Marshall killed himself as police closed in while he was on a bus. Following the murders, Maine officials stated they did not intend to make any changes to the state’s sex offender registry.

In August 2011, John Joseph Huffmaster, 29, of Hazelwood, Missouri, was charged with assaulting his 74-year-old neighbor with a hammer because the neighbor was on a sex offender registry. Huffmaster, who entered the victim’s home by asking for a cup of sugar, called police after the attack to claim he was “doing God’s work.” Police found the victim, semi-conscious and bleeding, with multiple skull and facial fractures.

Patrick Drum was sentenced to life in prison in September 2012 for killing two registered sex offenders in Washington state. His victims were Gary Lee Blanton, 28, and Jerry Wayne Ray, 57, who were fatally shot in June 2012. Drum reportedly admitted that he was targeting sex offenders and planned to continue killing them until he was caught.

On July 21, 2013, Jeremy and Christine Moody, husband and wife, murdered Charles “Butch” Parker, 59, and Gretchen Parker, 51, in South Carolina. Charles was a registered sex offender; both he and Gretchen had been shot and stabbed multiple times. The Moodys were identified from the Parkers’ home surveillance video. The video recorded Jeremy Moody telling Charles, “I’m not here to rob you. I’m here to kill you because you’re a child molester.”

Christine Moody told TV reporters that Charles Parker was a “pedophile” and a “demon.” Jeremy Moody confessed to deputies that he had killed Charles because he was a registered sex offender, and murdered Gretchen because she lived with him. He admitted to targeting other registered sex offenders and said he would have killed another on his “hit list” a few days later had he not been arrested. The Moodys pleaded guilty and received consecutive life sentences.

David Ray Mills, 36, his l6-year-old daughter and Andre Edwin Dickerson, 20, were charged in a January 2013 attack on Miguel Esteban Cruz, 21, whom the daughter accused of raping her. They allegedly lured Cruz to a park in Temecula, California, where Dickerson beat him with a baseball bat while the others watched. Cruz suffered skull fractures, broken bones, missing teeth and a lung injury. The three assailants were charged with attempted murder and mayhem, and held on $1 million bail each. Cruz had been charged with sodomy with a minor; he allegedly had sex with the girl after she passed out drunk on his couch.

In July 2015, Nebraska registered sex offender Phillip McDaniel lost his appeal seeking workers compensation for an attack that had occurred two years earlier at the Western Sugar Cooperative, when a co-worker assaulted him with a brass hammer while calling him a “chimo” – slang for “child molester.”

The co-worker, Jason Bates, had become enraged after discovering that McDaniel was a registered sex offender. McDaniel suffered injuries to his nose, clavicle and left shoulder. He applied for workers compensation but was denied; after he appealed, the Nebraska Court of Appeals upheld the denial, finding that the attack was due to personal reasons even if the only relationship between the two was as co-workers. See: McDaniel v. Western Sugar Coop., 23 Neb. App. 35, 867 N.W.2d 302 (Neb. Ct. App. 2015).

On June 25, 2016, Anchorage, Alaska police arrested Jason Vukovich, 41, for assaulting three registered sex offenders. The first victim, Charles Albee, told police a man with “shoulder-length hair and a black leather jacket” broke into his apartment, assaulted him and robbed him. The man knew his name and told him he was there because Albee was on the registry. He also showed Albee a notebook with a list of additional potential victims.

Two days later, a man matching the same description and carrying a hammer attacked registered sex offender Andres Barbosa. Barbosa said two women accompanied the man, who said he was there because of Barbosa’s “past crimes.”

Then on June 29, 2016, Wesley Demarest and Stanley Brown reported a man had broken into their home and attacked Demarest with a hammer, severely injuring him.

Vukovich was arrested after a traffic stop near the last crime scene. Police discovered a notebook with other victims’ names and items stolen from their homes in his car; he was charged with multiple felonies and faces up to 35 years in prison.

The details of the assault on Demarest are chilling. At one o’clock in the morning, Brown awakened to the sound of glass shattering in the entryway of his home. He ran to Demarest’s room to tell him someone was breaking in, but Vukovich was right behind him. Vukovich told Demarest to confirm his name and that he was a registered sex offender – for a crime for which he had served nine months, ten years earlier.

“He told me to lay down on my bed and I said ‘no.’ He said ‘get on your knees’ and I said ‘no.’ He said, ‘I am an avenging angel, I’m going to mete out justice for the people you hurt,’” Demarest stated.

Then Vukovich hit him in the head with the hammer four or five times before Demarest lost consciousness. Vukovich fled and Brown called 911. Weeks later, Demarest was still recovering from a fractured skull and unable to return to work.

Multiple studies have shown registries to be ineffective at reducing sex offender recidivism, which is extremely low – in fact only murderers have lower recidivism rates. Instead registries often serve a more sinister purpose, including as vehicles for public vengeance.

Alaska’s Sex Offender Registration law was enacted in 1994 after Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl, was raped and killed by a man who had previously sexually assaulted two other young girls.

But in a 2008 report, the Alaska Justice Forum (AJF) questioned the law’s premise “that sex offenders will inevitably reoffend and ... are not receptive to treatment.”

As a result of similar legislative efforts across the country, registries make little attempt to distinguish between types of sex offenders. Under Alaska’s system, an 18-year-old who has consensual sex with a 14-year-old faces the same registration requirements as someone convicted of a violent rape and murder: 15 years on the registry after getting out of prison.

“The myth of the incorrigible sex offender, all but guaranteed to reoffend, has been largely refuted,” wrote Deborah Periman, who authored the AJF report. “A study by the Alaska Justice Statistical Analysis Center of sex offenders released from Alaska corrections facilities in 2001 found that non-sex offenders were more likely to be rearrested than sex offenders.”

The Alaska Civil Liberties Union also thinks the current registry is flawed because “it can lead to vigilante behavior like [Vukovich] allegedly did,” said executive director Joshua Decker.

However, Keeley Olson, director of Standing Together Against Rape, does not believe the registry fails entirely as a deterrent, and contends it is worthwhile despite its shortcomings.

 “Perhaps people should think about [the risks] before they become sexual predators and harm children,” she noted.

In January 2017, police in Macon County, Illinois finally caught up with Samuel Henson, 19, who is a suspect in the 2015 beating of a 53-year-old registered sex offender. Henson, who was a student at Lincoln College of Technology in Indianapolis, is accused of committing the assault with two other teenagers. His bond was set at $10,000.

“He acknowledged knowing that the [victim] was a sex offender,” police said, “and that the three subjects involved had discussed battering him when they saw him walking down the street.”

Even absent registration as a sex offender or even a conviction, the mere accusation of a sex offense is sometimes used to justify acts of violence.

In Great Falls, Montana, Tracy Lynn Bossie was charged with one count of assault with a weapon, a felony, for the 2016 stabbing of relative Wallace Bossie, Jr., who had been charged with four felony sex crimes involving other relatives, all minors. Police reported multiple confrontations between the two adult Bossies in the weeks before the stabbing.

And earlier this year, a Bay City, Michigan court sentenced 34-year-old Justin R. Aikens to three years’ probation for a July 2016 incident in which he tried to drive over a 40-year-old man because, according to Aikens, he was “a child molester [and] children need someone to defend them.” Yet the National Sex Offender Registry did not list the victim as being a sex offender.

It is doubtful that any lawmakers would publicly support the assaults and murders of registered sex offenders, yet few have objected to those negative consequences of registries, nor do they typically try to curtail registration requirements or include protections for sex offenders whose publicly-posted information puts them at risk of vigilante attacks.

The examples cited above are the tip of a much larger iceberg of violence faced by registered sex offenders, the scope of which is largely unreported and thus unknown.