The bleachers of the Evergreen High School gymnasium rapidly filled even as tornado sirens blared. Those in attendance had one thing on their mind, according to State Senator Randy Gardner (R-Bowling Green): “To make our lives, our families, and our properties safer.”
The public forum discussing a Violent Offender Registry, hosted by the panel of Gardner, State Senator Cliff Hite (R-Findlay), and Fulton County Sheriff Roy Miller, was prompted by the recent murder of Sierah Joughin. Her indicted alleged killer, James Worley, previously served three years in prison for a 1990 abduction of a Whitehouse woman.
Hite said talk of a registry actually began about a month before Joughin’s murder, when he met with Paula Walters, the founder of Standing Courageous, an organization formed to provide awareness and education of interpersonal violence and violent offenders.
Although talks of a bill are in the very preliminary stages, the elected officials laid out their proposed groundwork for the process of creating a registry. According to Miller, a Violent Offender Registry could be very similar to the state’s current Sex Offender Registry, with numerous tier classifications for the different charges of which the offenders are convicted. Yet some attendees expressed concern over the similarities between the two registries.
Toledo native Jim Prager told the panel he thought the registry should have “less focus on individual responsibility.” He went on to express concern with offenders actually checking in with their local sheriff’s office, as would be mandated by law.
Sheriff Miller expressed different concerns, however. He stressed the need for the community to do their part in sharing the registry and signing up to receive updates, such as when an offender moves to a location within their vicinity. He noted that only 9.8 percent of county households have opted to receive alerts on the Sex Offender Registry, which is above the state average.
Only five other states currently have a Violent Offender Registry, and, according to Gardner, each has its individual weakness. He concluded from his research that kidnapping and abduction are not included on a similar registry in Indiana, while Illinois primarily focuses on violence against youth.
“I am certain that what we come up with in Ohio will be different than the other five,” Gardner said.
The senator also continually expressed the value of public opinion on the matter. “I want to take notes, listen, and learn from you,” he added.
Hite expanded upon the role of the community, saying “A lot of bills don’t start like this. We don’t want to miss anybody.”
Numerous new ideas and feedback by the public were well-received by the panel, such as an automatic registry through the Ohio courts system, and specially restricted license plates for violent offenders.
Fulton Township resident John Weber resonated with the rest of the public in sharing his concerns.
“I’m a little tired of watching how perpetrators have all the rights to the world,” he proclaimed. For his remarks, Weber received one of the many thunderous rounds of applause of the night.
Weber told the narrative of Wyatt’s Law, named after a Michigan child who suffered severe brain injuries at the hands of his father’s former girlfriend. The woman was twice convicted of third-degree child abuse prior to her incarceration following her conviction as Wyatt’s abuser.
According to Weber, a registry in Michigan would have prevented the crime, just as an Ohio registry might have prevented Joughin’s death.
“Pledge yourself to the long-term,” Weber added. Wyatt Rewoldt was abused in November 2013. A Michigan Violent Offenders Registry is yet to be in effect, but Weber remains optimistic.
“This is doable; this can be done,” he urged.
A number of other residents expressed a similar message of resilience, hope, and community when discussing the registry, many in memory of Sierah Joughin.
Gardner captured the will of the public, saying “I’m not discouraged at all because of a fight,” receiving another signature round of applause of the night.
Reach Cory Johnson at [email protected]