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Erroneous List of Sex Offenders Upsets Illinois-Area Homeowners

June 27, 1996

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) _ Amy McGee worries that vandals who think there’s a child molester in the neighborhood might target her home. After all, her address is listed on the state’s public registry of sex offenders.

Trouble is, the offender listed at that Peoria home doesn’t live there anymore.

And the list _ compiled from information provided by offenders themselves _ is riddled with other mistakes that have unnerved other people around the state.

``I’m very concerned,″ McGee said, worrying about what could happen if someone hurled a rock through her 5-year-old son’s window. ``It would go right through his room.″

Child sex offenders have been required since 1986 to register with the state when they get out of prison or move. Under a new Illinois law, offenders must register with local police, and police departments must release the names and addresses to help parents learn of dangerous neighbors. The names and addresses became available to the public June 1.

Several newspapers, including McGee’s local paper, have published their areas’ lists and the incorrect addresses.

Beth Schumacher said a sex offender was listed as living at her son’s Washburn address. She is angry, but also worried that police do not have a current address for the offender.

``Where’s this guy at? He hasn’t lived there for almost two years,″ Schumacher said.

Illinois State Police spokesman Mark McDonald said the agency has gotten two dozen complaints about incorrect information.

``It’s the responsibility of the offender to provide that information when he or she registers,″ McDonald said. ``They don’t all obey the law.″

He said local police try to verify the information provided by the 3,600 offenders, first by checking IDs and then by spot-checking the addresses they give. The state police check annually by mailing letters; when the post office returns a letter, police know the address is incorrect.

McDonald predicted accuracy will improve as bad addresses are eliminated. To get a mistaken address changed, people must call their local police, who investigate and then tell the state whether a change is needed.

The Journal Star of Peoria listed 134 local sex offenders in Sunday’s paper. The newspaper got complaints that eight of the addresses, or almost 6 percent, were wrong, including the ones for McGee and Schumacher’s son.

Managing editor Jack Brimeyer said he sympathizes with the people affected. ``They’re really hapless victims,″ he said.

The paper plans to update the list every three months, he said. He foresees no legal problems with printing a bad address because the information is obtained from a public document and the newspaper tries to doublecheck it.

Brett Bennett is all for publishing the list. He just wants it to be accurate. Bennett’s North Pekin address was listed as the home of a man convicted of aggravated sexual abuse. But that man moved out a year ago, before the Bennetts ever moved in.

``Somebody might see it and go on a rampage,″ he said. ``That’s all we’re worried about, getting the blame for something somebody else did.″

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