GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Rick McQuillin's mugshot appears on the same sex offender list as Gene Billings' -- two of nearly 1,900 sometimes sinister-looking faces from Kent County alone.
Wednesday night on 24 Hour News 8 at 11: Target 8 investigators expose who is really on the list. We dug through the files of more than 100 sex offenders in a typical Grand Rapids zip code to find out how many are actually predators.
"I think, according to that list, I'm a predator," McQuillin said.
And, so it could appear -- at least according to the few details on Michigan's sex offender registry.
It shows McQuillin targeted a victim between the age of 13 and 15, and that Billings molested a child under 13.
"I took care of the little girl for three years," Billings said.
But a Target 8 review of court records shows their crimes were nothing alike -- and that is raising questions about the list used by parents, neighbors, neighborhood watch groups and police to track sex offenders. The list is searched more than 1 million times a year.
With few details about why a sex offender is on the list, it's difficult to determine who might be a predator and who is not a danger. Michigan's list includes 42,000 names, including nearly 1,900 in Kent County.
"You want to be careful, you know, I mean it's a bad disease, if anything, you know, so you gotta kinda keep an eye open," said Claude Rolfe, who is aware of the sex offenders living in his Grand Rapids' northeast side neighborhood. "Cops can't do everything."
Billings was 72 when he was accused of sexual penetration and fondling of a 7-year-old girl -- the daughter of a friend -- at a home in Georgetown Township. In an interview with Target 8, he called himself her surrogate grandfather.
"When she turned 7 years old, all of a sudden, she got extremely curious about the male anatomy and that was the downfall, because I didn't stop it," Billings said.
McQuillin was 17, a Rockford High School junior when he had a one-afternoon stand with a 15-year-old girl he had just met, at her home near Rockford.
"I asked her; she said yes," he said.
Records show he didn't use force, but legally, she was too young to consent. Police call it a "Romeo-Juliet crime."
"I didn't know the laws; I didn't know anything about it," McQuillin said. "I was 17 years old. Nobody ever thinks about the consequences of their actions at 17."
The girl got pregnant, gave up their son for adoption; and McQuillin got two years probation -- no jail or prison.
But, the worst punishment of all -- McQuillin is on the sex offender list for 25 years -- until he turns 43.
On the Family Watchdog website , a red box marks his location, meaning he targeted a child.
"People look at me all the time with confused looks, like, is this really the guy that's on the list?"
The g irl's parents, today, say he doesn't belong there. "I thought it (the sex offender list) was excessive, personally," her stepfather said. "For this particular instance, I think once his time was served, that should have been the end of it. If he was a repeat offender or it was a violent rape, then I can see it, but that wasn't the case."
Even the judge who sentenced McQuillin calls it unfair.
"Almost to the point of being cruel and unusual -- cruel and unusual punishment," Kent County Circuit Judge Paul Sullivan said.
McQuillin says it has kept him from getting into the military, getting work.
Those who see him on the list, he says, likely think he's a "pedophile," he said. "They probably look at that list and think I'm out hunting kids, and it's nothing like that."
And, it will keep the 29-year-old, who now lives near Casnovia, from after-school activities for his two young sons.
"I'd love to see my kids in plays and choir, if they take choir, but it's something that's never going to happen," he said.
As for Billings, he served five years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of touching the 7-year-old Georgetown Township girl. The girl's mom -- at his sentencing -- said she had nightmares.
He's now 80, living in Grand Rapids and is on the list for life.
"If I was younger, it would be a real serious hindrance, but at my age, I can put up with it. I can deal with it."
Kent County Chief Public Defender Richard Hillary sees a need for the registry, though he wonders why murderers, burglars and car thieves don't have their own lists.
"I think there's some very dangerous individuals out there, pedophiles and true predators that individuals should know who they are," he said.
But with Michigan's sex offender registry, Target 8 found, it's difficult -- nearly impossible -- to figure who the real predators are.
"It looks really ugly, you know? Because what it does is it groups everybody together and you can imply they're all child molesters," said Eddie Pratt, a convicted sex offender, while viewing his image from the sex offender registry.
Hillary says his office gets two to three so-called "statutory" rape cases a month, just like the one in Rockford.
"They're all lumped within the same
category. They all have to register. They all have the same restrictions on where they can live, and some of them are simply not predators," he said.
That's one reason the website TopTenReviews -- which compared the nation's sex offender registries -- ranked Michigan's as No. 31.
Florida's sex offender registry is No. 1 -- in part because it highlights predators -- those convicted of first-degree rape or who raped or molested young children -- men like Gene Billings. Predators get red boxes around their photographs and the word "predator" in red below their names.
Whenever predators move, Florida police notify schools, playgrounds and nurseries within a mile. That doesn't happen in Michigan.
To get a better idea of how many predators might be living among us, Target 8 applied Florida's law to more than 140 sex offenders living in one Grand Rapids zip code -- 49503.
Target 8 reviewed about 90 cases that appeared to meet Florida's predator standards, pulling court files for most of those, and knocked on doors of sex offenders.
In the next report, we'll tell you what we found and introduce you to brothers -- living together -- and both on the list.
"I'm on it til 2012," Benjamin Dixon said.
"And I'm on it for life," his brother added.
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