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South Carolina community anxious as police look for convicted sex offender

Saturday, March 18, 2006

HARTSVILLE, S.C. -- Had Tonya Dixon realized the man living across the street was a convicted sex offender, she says she would never have moved with her family to a mobile home in a quiet, isolated neighborhood.

Officers, bloodhounds and helicopters continued searching Friday for 47-year-old Kenneth Glenn Hinson, who is wanted in the rape of two teenage girls in an underground room behind his home here in northeastern South Carolina.

Dixon, who moved to the neighborhood about two weeks ago, searched her computer after news of the assaults spread and found Hinson's mug shot on the state's sexual predator list.

"They need a big ol' sign in the yard letting people know," said Dixon, 29, who has three young children.

Under a shed

The two 17-year-olds were abducted and assaulted in a room under a shed on Hinson's property, Darlington County Chief Deputy Tom Gainey said. The girls were left bound but managed to free themselves. Gainey said they opened the trap door in the floor and kick down the shed's door.

Hinson is wanted on kidnapping and criminal sexual conduct charges. There have been no confirmed sightings of him and no confirmed contact with any of his family in the area, Gainey said Friday.

Hinson was convicted of raping a 12-year-old girl in 1991 and had been recommended for the state's sexually violent predator program just before his release from prison in 2000, but was rejected during the screening process, the state attorney general's office said.

A circuit judge later ruled that prosecutors had failed to show Hinson would likely offend again.

"We thought then that the judge made a mistake," state Attorney General Henry McMaster told ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" on Friday. "I think events, if all this is true that we hear today -- it appears that the man should have gone into the system, certainly."

The judge, Edward Cottingham, told WIS-TV in Columbia that he doesn't remember the case and that official court records should reflect the basis for his ruling. Cottingham, a retired but active judge, did not return messages from The Associated Press.

'One big family'

The rural road leading to Hinson's home outside Hartsville is lined with mobile homes, many of them with bikes and toys lying in the yards. The neighborhood, which one resident described as "one big family," is about 20 miles northwest of Florence where busy Interstate 95 meets Interstate 20.

Argeree Cooks, who lives with her four grandchildren down the street from Hinson's home, was worried. Her family also did not know Hinson was a sex offender, she said.

"Why couldn't they tell us?" she said. "We have seen him. They need to tell people these things."


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