- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 28, 2005

This weekend, a crowd of more than 100,000 is expected to gather on grassy lawns under eucalyptus trees in San Diego’s Balboa Park to celebrate the city’s annual Gay Pride Festival.The festivities will include funnel cakes, beer gardens, disco disc jockeys, a parade — and two convicted sex offenders.

Daniel Rieger and Warren Derichsweiler are listed as volunteer staffers for the Gay Pride Festival on the event’s program, and also are listed in California’s online registry of convicted sex offenders.

Both men were convicted of sex crimes with minors — Derichsweiler’s crime was “lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years, with force,” according to the state site — but will be working at a festival that features events for minors, including a “Children’s Garden” and a “Youth Hangout Space.”

The two men’s involvement in this weekend’s event sparked protests in San Diego — a proposed resolution endorsing Gay Pride Week abruptly was pulled from Monday’s docket for the San Diego City Council meeting — amid a wave of rising public concerns about the dangers of recidivism by sex offenders.

The Washington-based Traditional Values Coalition has urged the two men to surrender to authorities for violating Megan’s Law, a 1996 federal statute that prohibits sex offenders who committed crimes against children under 16 from working directly with minors.

“We’ve got to protect the children from these predators,” said the Rev. Louis Sheldon, founder and chairman of TVC. “If we don’t get tough with these people … [children] don’t stand a chance.”

The board of directors of the organization sponsoring the San Diego event defended the two volunteers. Frank Sabatini Jr., media coordinator for San Diego LGBT Pride Inc., said the board was surprised to learn of the men’s crimes, but that the offenses happened at least 15 years ago and were not repeated.

“They’re not predators,” Mr. Sabatini said. “They’re just set-up people [at the festival]. … We are confident that they will conduct their jobs and this will end up as a nonissue. We feel they’ve paid their penance.”

The San Diego dispute highlights a bitter debate about how to keep tabs on thousands of registered sex offenders nationally. There are currently 549,038 such criminals in the United States, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

While each state runs a sex-offender registry Web site — authorized by Megan’s Law — the center said most offenders are not in prison, and those who are often serve limited sentences. In addition, at least 100,000 fail to even register and remain undetected by law enforcement.

Public concern has been intensified by recent high-profile cases of children victimized by previously convicted offenders:

• John Couey, 46, a convicted sex offender, has been charged in the February kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. Police say Couey, who lived in a trailer near Jessica’s Citrus County, Fla., home, confessed that he buried the girl alive.

• Police said David Onstott, 36, confessed to the April kidnapping and murder of 13-year-old Sarah Lunde in Tampa, Fla. Onstott had a long criminal record, including sex offenses, dating back to 1986.

• Shasta Groene, 8, was rescued July 2 after police said the Idaho girl was kidnapped by Joseph Edward Duncan III, who previously had been convicted of raping a 14-year-old boy. Duncan also is suspected of kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing Shasta’s 9-year-old brother, Dylan, and he faces three counts of murder in the May 16 deaths of Shasta’s 13-year-old brother, Slade Groene; her mother, Brenda Groene, 40; and the mother’s boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, 37.

cDean Schwartzmiller is charged with seven felony counts in San Jose, Calif., where police contend he molested two 12-year-old boys. Police said when they arrested Schwartzmiller, they found notebooks in which the fugitive had written the names of more than 36,000 children — mostly boys — with coded descriptions. Headings for the logs included “Blond Boys,” “Cute Boys” and “Boys who say no.”

“In terms of childhood, these men are terrorists,” Mr. Sheldon said.

Public concern is increasing. A Gallup Poll in February found that almost 66 percent of adults surveyed said they were “very concerned” about the possibility of sexual molestation of children in their communities. In Connecticut, the number of visits to the state’s online sex-offender registry tripled in March, reaching more than 1 million.

Megan’s Law — named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old New Jersey girl who was kidnapped and murdered in 1994 by a convicted sex offender — was enacted in 1996 to protect children from such criminals, but critics complain that states have differed in their applications of the law. Offender-registry sites in 21 states leave out most registrants, said Laura Ahearn, executive director of the victims’ rights organization Parents for Megan’s Law.

In addition, about 24 percent of the nation’s sex offenders fail to comply with state registration requirements.

“I’m not surprised,” Miss Ahearn said. “We’re asking sex offenders to register with law enforcement … on an honor system.”

The lack of uniformity in the enforcement of Megan’s Law is dangerous, she said.

“Sex offenders shop around. They go to counties with more lenient laws,” Miss Ahearn said.

But the laws soon may change. The Justice Department already has developed a national sex-offender registry, and two congressmen recently vowed a bipartisan push to strengthen Megan’s Law.

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, and Rep. Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey Democrat, said their bill would require the worst criminals to wear electronic ankle bracelets to monitor their whereabouts.

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