Rapists' photos mailed as campaign tactic
Mug shots of menacing child rapists are showing up in the mailboxes of Washington voters as part of a new round of political attack ads launched by a national Republican group that claims the state lost track of 1,300 sex offenders under Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire's watch.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Mug shots of menacing child rapists are showing up in the mailboxes of Washington voters as part of a new round of political-attack ads launched by a national Republican group that claims the state lost track of 1,300 sex offenders under Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire's watch.
The ads were paid for by the Republican Governors Association (RGA), which has poured $2 million into anti-Gregoire ads to aid Republican challenger Dino Rossi.
RGA spokesman Chris Schrimpf said "hundreds of thousands" of the mailers were sent to Washington voters this week. Similar ads are running on TV and in newspapers.
The ad campaign drew angry reactions from some prosecutors and law-enforcement officials who say Gregoire deserves credit for pushing new laws and funding for better monitoring of sex offenders.
"This ticks me off. You can't pin this one on the governor," said Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, which provides support services to law enforcement.
Pierce said Gregoire secured more than $5 million to aid counties in tracking sex offenders and filing charges against those who fail to register. She also allocated cash for an improved statewide database on sex-offender whereabouts.
Mark Roe, senior deputy prosecutor for Snohomish County, who has spent most of his 21-year career prosecuting sex offenders, said the RGA ads left him "quivering" with anger.
"Gov. Chris Gregoire is the best friend that police, prosecutors and, most importantly, parents have ever had in prosecuting sex offenders and holding them accountable. Period. End of story," Roe said during a news conference Thursday with other law-enforcement officials at Gregoire's Seattle campaign headquarters.
The Rossi campaign rejected a call by Roe and other Gregoire backers to repudiate the RGA ads.
"It's absolutely a legitimate criticism of the governor and her record," said Rossi spokeswoman Jill Strait.
Strait said Rossi has a record of pushing for tougher sex-offender laws, including sponsoring the "two strikes you're out" law mandating life in prison for those convicted twice of child rape and molestation.
Jim Hines, a Republican and Gig Harbor activist who has championed tougher sex-offender laws, gave Gregoire some credit for her recent work on the issue.
But Hines said Republicans had proposed similar plans before Gregoire, who acted only after the 2007 murder of 12-year-old Zina Linnik dominated local headlines.
"She hasn't led on it," he said. "She only did it when it was politically expedient."
The 1,300 sex offenders that the RGA mailers say "disappeared" refers to offenders whose addresses have not been verified following their release from prison or jail. That includes 600 who registered as homeless.
Those numbers came from a November 2007 USA Today article, which cited interviews with state officials.
The Washington State Patrol keeps a database of sex offenders, including those who are reported by local sheriff and police departments as having no verified address.
As of Oct. 1, that database reported 1,381 offenders of the state's 20,152 sex offenders as having no verified address, said patrol spokesman Capt. Jeff DeVere.
But that doesn't mean all those offenders are prowling Washington's streets, according to Pierce, whose association works with the state to distribute sex-offender data to the public.
Offenders who are in prison, or who have moved to other states, easily could show up as "unverified," Pierce said.
Washington was the first state to enact a sex-offender registry in 1990 after a 7-year-old boy was raped, stabbed and mutilated in a Tacoma park by a man with a long criminal history of sexual violence.
Sex offenders are required by law to register their whereabouts with local police and sheriff's departments, but some register as homeless, complicating authorities' efforts to track them.
A Seattle Times investigation in 2005 found hundreds of sex offenders in King County had claimed to be homeless, even though some of them were living in apartments or houses.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, a Republican, said the boost in the state budget pushed by Gregoire should provide "a real shot in the arm" toward solving that problem. The county has used the money to hire a prosecutor whose sole job will be to focus on sex-offender-registration cases, he said.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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