By Matt Clarke . . . As repeatedly reported in Prison Legal News, for over a decade registered sex offenders have been targeted by vigilantes and assaulted, robbed and murdered due to their past crimes. And as noted in this issue’s cover story, that is part of the dark side of sex offender registries, which allow public access to offenders’ residential addresses and other personal information. Such information not only endangers registered sex offenders but also those who live with them and, in at least one case in Dallas, Texas, an innocent victim. That Dallas man, who was beaten with a baseball bat, had simply moved into an apartment recently vacated by a sex offender.
PLN believes these incidents are more widespread and occur with greater frequency than reported in the mainstream media. [See, e.g.: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.49; June 2015, p.63; Feb. 2013, p.50; April 2007, p.18].
In one of the earliest cases of registry vigilantism, two registered sex offenders who were living in the same home in Bellingham, Washington were murdered in 2005 by a man who gained access to their residence by claiming to be an FBI agent investigating threats made against sex offenders. Hank Eisses, 49, and Victor Vasquez, 68, were gunned down by Michael Anthony Mullen, who later confessed to the crime. Mullen was convicted and sentenced to 44 years; he died in prison.
Stephen A. Marshall, 20, a Canadian citizen, used information from online registries to locate two sex offenders in Maine, killing them in separate incidents in April 2006. William Elliot, 24, and Joseph Gray, 57, were shot to death. Marshall killed himself as police closed in while he was on a bus. Following the murders, Maine officials stated they did not intend to make any changes to the state’s sex offender registry.
In August 2011, John Joseph Huffmaster, 29, of Hazelwood, Missouri, was charged with assaulting his 74-year-old neighbor with a hammer because the neighbor was on a sex offender registry. Huffmaster, who entered the victim’s home by asking for a cup of sugar, called police after the attack to claim he was “doing God’s work.” Police found the victim, semi-conscious and bleeding, with multiple skull and facial fractures.
Patrick Drum was sentenced to life in prison in September 2012 for killing two registered sex offenders in Washington state. His victims were Gary Lee Blanton, 28, and Jerry Wayne Ray, 57, who were fatally shot in June 2012. Drum reportedly admitted that he was targeting sex offenders and planned to continue killing them until he was caught.
On July 21, 2013, Jeremy and Christine Moody, husband and wife, murdered Charles “Butch” Parker, 59, and Gretchen Parker, 51, in South Carolina. Charles was a registered sex offender; both he and Gretchen had been shot and stabbed multiple times. The Moodys were identified from the Parkers’ home surveillance video. The video recorded Jeremy Moody telling Charles, “I’m not here to rob you. I’m here to kill you because you’re a child molester.”
Christine Moody told TV reporters that Charles Parker was a “pedophile” and a “demon.” Jeremy Moody confessed to deputies that he had killed Charles because he was a registered sex offender, and murdered Gretchen because she lived with him. He admitted to targeting other registered sex offenders and said he would have killed another on his “hit list” a few days later had he not been arrested. The Moodys pleaded guilty and received consecutive life sentences.
David Ray Mills, 36, his l6-year-old daughter and Andre Edwin Dickerson, 20, were charged in a January 2013 attack on Miguel Esteban Cruz, 21, whom the daughter accused of raping her. They allegedly lured Cruz to a park in Temecula, California, where Dickerson beat him with a baseball bat while the others watched. Cruz suffered skull fractures, broken bones, missing teeth and a lung injury. The three assailants were charged with attempted murder and mayhem, and held on $1 million bail each. Cruz had been charged with sodomy with a minor; he allegedly had sex with the girl after she passed out drunk on his couch.
In July 2015, Nebraska registered sex offender Phillip McDaniel lost his appeal seeking workers compensation for an attack that had occurred two years earlier at the Western Sugar Cooperative, when a co-worker assaulted him with a brass hammer while calling him a “chimo” – slang for “child molester.”
The co-worker, Jason Bates, had become enraged after discovering that McDaniel was a registered sex offender. McDaniel suffered injuries to his nose, clavicle and left shoulder. He applied for workers compensation but was denied; after he appealed, the Nebraska Court of Appeals upheld the denial, finding that the attack was due to personal reasons even if the only relationship between the two was as co-workers. See: McDaniel v. Western Sugar Coop., 23 Neb. App. 35, 867 N.W.2d 302 (Neb. Ct. App. 2015).
On June 25, 2016, Anchorage, Alaska police arrested Jason Vukovich, 41, for assaulting three registered sex offenders. The first victim, Charles Albee, told police a man with “shoulder-length hair and a black leather jacket” broke into his apartment, assaulted him and robbed him. The man knew his name and told him he was there because Albee was on the registry. He also showed Albee a notebook with a list of additional potential victims.
Two days later, a man matching the same description and carrying a hammer attacked registered sex offender Andres Barbosa. Barbosa said two women accompanied the man, who said he was there because of Barbosa’s “past crimes.”
Then on June 29, 2016, Wesley Demarest and Stanley Brown reported a man had broken into their home and attacked Demarest with a hammer, severely injuring him.
Vukovich was arrested after a traffic stop near the last crime scene. Police discovered a notebook with other victims’ names and items stolen from their homes in his car; he was charged with multiple felonies and faces up to 35 years in prison.
The details of the assault on Demarest are chilling. At one o’clock in the morning, Brown awakened to the sound of glass shattering in the entryway of his home. He ran to Demarest’s room to tell him someone was breaking in, but Vukovich was right behind him. Vukovich told Demarest to confirm his name and that he was a registered sex offender – for a crime for which he had served nine months, ten years earlier.
“He told me to lay down on my bed and I said ‘no.’ He said ‘get on your knees’ and I said ‘no.’ He said, ‘I am an avenging angel, I’m going to mete out justice for the people you hurt,’” Demarest stated.
Then Vukovich hit him in the head with the hammer four or five times before Demarest lost consciousness. Vukovich fled and Brown called 911. Weeks later, Demarest was still recovering from a fractured skull and unable to return to work.
Multiple studies have shown registries to be ineffective at reducing sex offender recidivism, which is extremely low – in fact only murderers have lower recidivism rates. Instead registries often serve a more sinister purpose, including as vehicles for public vengeance.
Please read the rest of this article about vigilantism in Prison Legal News.