GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Benjamin Dixon and his brother, Eric, live together on Grand Rapids' southwest side -- and both are listed on the sex offender registry.
Benjamin Dixon performed oral sex on a 12-year-old boy; Eric Dixon molested a young relative -- details not available on Michigan's registry Web site.
"I'm on it until 2012," Benjamin Dixon, now 49, told Target 8.
"I'm on it for life," his 46-year-old brother added.
In most cases, the registry doesn't have enough details to answer that question.
So, Target 8 went looking for them.
In Part 3 of this Target 8 investigation, Ken Kolker talks with lawmakers who plan to introduce legislation to fix the problems with the Michigan Sex Offender Registry. Watch it Thursday on 24 Hour News 8 at 11.
"It was CSC second-degree against a 12-year-old male child that was black," Benjamin Dixon told Target 8.
Four years later, Dixon's victim, Alexander Butler, molested three young relatives, court records show. Butler was 16 at the time. Then, when Butler was 18, he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl. Butler, now 26, is in prison for that assault.
The girl, who was Butler's friend, told Target 8 she started cutting herself after the assault and considered suicide. She is now 23, with a young daughter.
She put some of the blame on Dixon -- her attacker's attacker, a man she's never met.
"Maybe if that guy wouldn't have done it to Alex, maybe Alex wouldn't have done it to nobody else," the woman said.
Michigan's sex offender list includes 42,000 names across the state -- nearly 1,900 in Kent County, 640 in Ottawa and 830 each in Kalamazoo and Muskegon counties -- men and women convicted of everything from stranger-on-stranger rape to groping somebody on the dance floor.
"What the act is trying to do is protect the public from, as you say, predators," Kent County Circuit Judge Paul Sullivan said. "It does that, but it seems to go beyond that."
In Florida, unlike Michigan, predators get their own designation -- with red boxes around their photographs and the word "predator" in their description. That is one reason the website TopTenReviews ranked that state's sex offender list as the best in the nation. Michigan's ranked 31.
To determine 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.
The study looked for anybody convicted of sex crimes involving children under age 12, and anybody convicted of first-degree rape -- a life offense. Here's what Target 8 found:
- Thirty-one possible predators in 49503 -- about one of every five offenders -- including Benjamin Dixon, the man who molested the 12-year-old boy.
- About a dozen more could have qualified as predators -- including Dixon's brother, Eric -- except that they were convicted before Oct. 1, 1993 -- Florida's cut-off date.
- Of more than 140 offenders tracked by Target 8, about 100 didn't make the list of possible predators. That includes nearly two-dozen convicted of misdemeanor sexual touching -- considered among the lowest-level of sex crimes.
"I think of the guy who's had too much to drink on the dance floor and gropes someone," said Kent County Chief Public Defender Richard Hillary.
Target 8 also found several men convicted of consensual sex with girls not legally old enough to consent -- statutory rape.
"They should not be painted with the same brush as a dangerous predator or a pedophile," Hillary said.
The list of possible predators in 49503 includes three convicted of first-degree rape, involving victims older than 13.
Target 8 study of 49503
- Offenders: 145
- Possible predators: 31
Breakdown of possible predators
- Related to victim: 12
- Acquainted with victim: 9
- Stranger: 1
- Relationship unknown: 6
Lisa Marie Darling is one of them. She was 16 in 1999 when she and three other girls sold a teen-aged girl to four men for sex. The men paid a total of $80. Darling is now 27 and living on Grand Rapids' southwest side.
The rest on our predator list -- 28 -- were convicted of sex crimes involving children age 12 and under.
Just one was a stranger -- 34-year-old Anaya Angel Gonzalez who was selling ice cream from a push cart when he offered a 7-year-old girl free ice cream in trade for a sex act.
It's not clear where Gonzalez is now. The sex offender list shows he lives in the 49503 zip code, address unknown, but court records show he was jailed until the feds could deport him.
Most of the possible predators were either related to their victims or knew them -- like Benjamin Dixon, who was babysitting his 12-year-old victim -- the boy who later became a predator himself. Dixon still denies molesting the boy.
"If I was going to do something like that, I would have done it with one of my own," he said.
He says he's not responsible
for the assaults committed by his victim.
"No, I'm not responsible for what he did," he said.
Like Dixon, Timothy Sexton is on Michigan's sex offender registry and would have made our predator list -- except that his crimes happened nearly two decades ago.
He was 20 when he had sex with two under-aged girls. One was 12. He says he thought they were old enough, but he pleaded guilty and went to prison.
"I made my mistake and I'm done," said Sexton. "I feel that I'm not no horrible person. I'm not no dangerous person or I'm not no pedophile."
Now 38, he lives in an adult foster care home with 11 men, including two others on the sex offender list.
"I"m afraid to go somewhere because I don't know where all the school zones are, and I'm afraid that if the police stop me inside of a school zone when I'm going somewhere to get something that when I come up as a registered sex offender they're going to send me to jail."
Then, there's Melissa Healey, who was 26 when she lured under-aged boys from Rockford High School with alcohol, cigarettes and sex. She got a year in jail and 25 years on the list. The list, she said, was the worst part of that punishment.
Fourteen years later, now 41, she lives in an apartment complex that is home to 10 sex offenders. Her two young daughters aren't in plays or sports because their mom isn't allowed in school.
"People need to know the details and the facts to the case before they make judgments on people," she said.
Target 8's list of possible predators also would include Eddie Pratt -- except that his crime happened nearly three decades ago.
"I try to put everything behind me and have some type of closure and that doesn't, the registry doesn't allow me to do that," Pratt said.
Pratt was 25 when he picked up two prostitutes, one after the other, on one night in June 1982. The women said he had a knife. Two separate cases, two separate juries, two separate verdicts: One found him not guilty, the other guilty of rape.
"I was young and stupid, thought I wasn't hurting anybody with prostitutes and stuff and not paying them," he said.
Nearly 30 years later -- after time in prison -- he's 53, married, living in Grand Rapids and, while he wouldn't qualify as a predator, is on Michigan's sex offender list. Records show it was his only brush with the law.
"The first thing you think, you read it, it is child molester, and that's the first thing everybody thinks when they go to the list," Pratt said.
At least one of his neighbors is leery.
"It is 30 years; it doesn't matter though," Glenda Holloway said. "Some people change, some people don't. Some people get God, some people don't. But yes, I am concerned now."
Michigan has until July 27 to comply with the federal Adam Walsh Act , which requires separating sex offenders into three tiers, based on the seriousness of their conviction. If it fails, the state could lose at least $1 million in federal law enforcement funds.
The federal act also would exclude offenders convicted in so-called "Romeo-Juliet cases" -- statutory rape -- where the victim is between 13 and 15 and the offender is not more than four years older. Offenders already on the list for such a crime would be required to petition a judge to get removed from the list.
That would include Rick McQuillin, a former Rockford High School student now on the list for 25 years after having sex at age 17 with a 15-year-old girl. He says the list kept him out of the military and has cost him jobs. Under the federal act, he would no longer be on the list.
The Adam Walsh Act also would exclude those convicted of indecent exposure. Now, anybody convicted of that crime three times is part of the list. In 49503 -- the zip code studied by Target 8 -- only one of more than 140 offenders was on the list for indecent exposure.
And, some offenders convicted of less-serious crimes -- such as inappropriate touching -- could petition to get off the list if they stay out of trouble.
State Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he plans to propose legislation soon. Wayne Kuipers, a now retired state senator, introduced a similar bill in November 2010, but it went nowhere.
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