Governor recommends expansion of state's sex offender law

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - After 14-year-old Kristen Jackson was strangled to death in September, her body parts found days after she disappeared from the Wayne County Fair, Gov. Bob Taft (pictured, right) ordered a review of the state's sex offender laws.

Last month, Joel Yockey of Wooster pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, rape and kidnapping and was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.

Yockey was released from prison in March after serving a 15-year sentence for raping a teenager in 1986. He was living with his parents west of Wooster. Kristen was known to visit a friend whose
family lived next door to Yockey.

Yockey was required to report his address to the sheriff for 10 years after his release as a "sexually oriented offender" -- a person convicted of at least one sexual offense. He also was listed on the Sheriff's Department Web site.

Under recommendations released Wednesday by the task force Taft appointed, Ohio would expand the number of crimes covered by the state's Megan's law, require repeat sex offenders to register with authorities and neighbors for life and increase penalties for offenders who don't register.

Taft said the recommendations would help "prevent senseless acts" like Jackson's death.

Taft had ordered the top attorney on his staff, Judith French, to lead a committee to review Ohio's 1997 Megan's Law requiring convicted sex offenders to register with local police. The law also requires community notification for the most serious offenders.

It was modeled after a New Jersey law named for a 7-year-old girl raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender living in her neighborhood.

Officials are not required to notify neighbors, as they do in more serious cases, when offenders are classified as "sexual predators" or "habitual sex offenders."

Other recommendations include requiring sex offenders to register in the county where they work or go to school and the creation of an Internet database of sex offenders.

House Speaker Larry Householder and Senate President Doug White will back the recommendations as one of the General Assembly's top priorities this year, Taft spokesman Orest Holubec said.

Last week, a state appeals court struck down part of the law that requires a sexual offender designation for any adult convicted of kidnapping a child.

Holubec said Taft is confident the recommendations are constitutional.

In the past four years, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled several times to uphold various aspects of the state's sex offender law.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)