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2 SEX OFFENDERS SAY THEY DON'T DESERVE HARSH LABEL

The middle-aged man from a Buffalo suburb won't hide from his crime.

He had a sexual relationship with his daughter's friend, a 15-year-old girl, in 1995. It was wrong, and he offers no excuses for what he did. The man, who's in his 40s, pleaded guilty to third-degree rape, a felony. He served four months in jail.

But now he objects to the new label he has picked up: "violent sexual predator."

Under Megan's Law, this man is considered a Level 3 offender, the highest-level risk, meaning he's a threat to the community.

If he had committed his crime one year later, after Megan's Law took effect in January 1996, his neighbors might be receiving written notices -- complete with a photo -- about his crime.

"What I did was wrong and stupid, but it was not a violent act, and I did not go out and coerce this girl," he said earlier this week. "How can Megan's Law call me a violent predator?"

That's one man's story.

Another Level 3 offender, this one from Depew, also objects to his status.

He pleaded guilty to sexual abuse after admitting that he smacked a woman with whom he had an affair. Because his crime occurred after the law took effect, Depew police went door-to-door in his neighborhood, and anyone could go to the police station to see his name and photo.

"Megan's Law was designed to protect small children who are prey for released and convicted pedophiles," he said. "It shouldn't pertain to people who had a sexual relationship with an adult."

The Depew man, who served eight months of a one-year jail sentence, already has felt the wrath of the Megan's Law notification process.

"My daughter has had problems in school," he said. "She's been beaten up and harassed by local kids. I've had to meet with her principal, and I haven't been able to get a job."

Both men contacted The Buffalo News after a recent story about the notification section of Megan's Law, which remains a patchwork of vastly different procedures and policies across Erie County.

Buffalo police haven't notified the public about any of their 12 Level 3 offenders who committed their crimes after January 1996. Most suburban departments have some kind of notification procedure for alerting "vulnerable populations," including schools, day-care and community centers, churches and block clubs.

So far the notification practices have varied greatly. The West Seneca and Orchard Park schools mailed all parents a notice about one Level 3 offender, including his name, address and mug shot. In other areas, the notification has consisted of police going door-to-door to tell neighbors that a Level 3 offender lives in their midst.

The two Level 3 offenders aren't the only people complaining about some features of Megan's Law.

Some law enforcement officials have complained that the law was enacted without the proper guidelines about how to notify the public. And some have admitted privately that the law is not perfect, that it's difficult to determine exactly who should be a Level 3 offender.

Everyone working with Megan's Law seems to agree on one point: that the notification procedure should be only one component of the protection afforded young children against sex offenders.

"Megan's Law does not take away the parents' responsibility to know where their child is at all times and who their child is with at all times," Town of Evans Detective Daniel Eppolito said recently. "Everyone should be treating their neighborhood as if a sex offender is lurking there."

Both offenders interviewed last week believe in the idea of a Megan's Law.

"I believe there should be a Megan's Law for convicted pedophiles and repeat pedophiles," the Depew man said. "If it happens once, you know it's going to happen again."

Both men claim that they don't hide out in bushes or lurk around neighborhood playgrounds looking for kids. That they're no threat to any little kids. And that they've served their time for their crimes.

So they don't think they should be labeled high-risk Level 3 offenders.

"As a Level 3 offender, I get lumped in with someone who would go out looking for a kid, who would hurt a kid and who would forcibly have sex with a kid," said the man who admitted to the relationship with the 15-year-old girl. "I'm not capable of that, and I never have been."

How do authorities determine whether an offender is Level 1 (low risk), Level 2 (moderate risk) or Level 3 (high risk)?

Either a judge or parole officials make the determination, based on a risk-assessment form that considers the victim's age, the use of any violence, the number of victims, the victim's relationship with the offender, the offender's criminal history, his post-offense behavior and the environment into which he's released.

Level 3 offenders, often repeat offenders who may deny their acts, are labeled "violent sexual predators."

That label upset the man who had the relationship with the teen-ager.

"It doesn't only affect me, it affects my family," he said. "How is my daughter ever going to walk down the street with me and be proud of her father again, if he's labeled a violent predator?"

Similarly, the Depew man objected to authorities showing a photo of him or any other Level 3 offender.

"I do not think they should send out anyone's mug shot, especially if the guy is really serious about rehabilitation," he said. Invalid RETURN.TO.MARK STYLs voided here

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