Paper Prints Name of Sex Offender
Jan. 22, 1998
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Under Megan's Law, authorities may go door-to-door to tell residents about sex offenders moving into their neighborhood.
Now two newspapers have printed stories quoting information from a ``sex offender release notice,'' angering authorities who meant it only for neighbors' eyes and alarming those who fear such notices can lead to vigilante action.
The Home News & Tribune of East Brunswick ran a front-page story Wednesday, including two mug shots from the notice naming Ronald Terpak.
The flier was distributed to residents of Union and Middlesex counties with a warning that it ``may not be released beyond your immediate household, given to the press, or posted anywhere.''
The newspaper omitted Terpak's address, but the article and a front-page map identified the streets of his neighborhood.
The article, but not the pictures, also was published in the Asbury Park Press and posted on the newspapers' Internet sites, making it accessible from anywhere in the world.
``We heard the fliers were going out, and thought we'd be remiss if we didn't do it,'' said Teresa Klink, managing editor of the The Home News & Tribune. She wouldn't say how the newspaper got the notice.
Ms. Klink said the newspaper considered the flier ``public information.'' Asked whether she believed it raised the risk of vigilantism, the editor said, ``I don't know whether it will or not. We decided to be fair and not publish the man's address.''
W. Raymond Ollwerther, executive director of the Asbury Park Press, defended the decision to publish the information. He said the newspaper decides whether to publish information about sex offenders on a case-by-case basis depending on newsworthiness.
Terpak has been free since March 1993 after serving three years for attempting to endanger the welfare of a child. He does not have a phone listing and could not be reached Wednesday for comment.
Attorney General Peter Verniero said it was improper for the information to be given to the newspaper. He said prosecutors will investigate how the information got out.
``Improper dissemination may be considered contempt of court,'' Verniero said in a statement. ``I also reiterate that any act of vigilantism against a known sex offender will not be tolerated.''
Under Megan's Law, authorities may go door-to-door to notify residents that sex offenders considered to pose a high risk of committing new crimes have moved nearby. The notification area must be approved by a judge and may be challenged by the offender at a closed judicial hearing.
The law was named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old who was raped and murdered by a sex offender who had moved into her neighborhood.
When it upheld Megan's Law in 1995, the state Supreme Court wrote ``we assume that the media will not knowingly frustrate the explicit legislative goal of confining notification to those likely to encounter the offender.''
The state public defender's office, which is pursuing several appeals of Megan's Law, said the newspaper's action is evidence that notification can result in an invasion of the offender's privacy.
A lawyer who represents offenders challenging the law predicted vigilante action and flight for Terpak.
``When this happens, bad things happen to the registrant,'' said John S. Furlong, who does not represent Terpak.
``Typically, these guys are rendered jobless and homeless by executive fiat,'' Furlong said. ``It will shift our problem to a neighboring state, another community, because we refuse to confront a tough, public mental health issue.''