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Ga. boy's slaying prompts outcry that molester was allowed to live close to victim

Saturday, March 17, 2007

BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- Neighbors of a slain 6-year-old boy are fuming over how a molester arrested in the child's abduction had been allowed to live in the same trailer park as the victim, just months after legislators passed one of the nation's toughest crackdowns on sex offenders.

A Georgia law passed last year prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school bus stop. That would have barred George David Edenfield from living so close to Christopher Michael Barrios, but a pending lawsuit prompted a federal judge last year to block that provision from taking effect.

"This is a clear indication of why it was good legislation to consider school bus stops," Sen. Eric Johnson, president pro tempore of the Georgia Senate, told reporters Friday. "It may make it difficult to find a place for a sexual predator to live, and I don't think we make any apologies about that."

The search for Christopher, who was last seen alive March 8, ended Thursday when his body was found in a black trash bag dumped near a roadside about three miles from his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, a port city in southeastern Georgia.

Edenfield, 32, one of four suspects arrested in connection with Christopher's death, had to register as a sex offender in Georgia because of a 1997 child molestation conviction. He and his parents lived across the street from Christopher's grandmother and less than 600 feet from where the kindergartner met his school bus.

"He'd go out here in the morning watching children getting on the bus, and again in the afternoon when they would come off the bus," said Sue Rodriguez, Christopher's grandmother. "A person like that shouldn't be allowed to be here."

Her neighbor, Kimberly Maynard, said she's terrified to let her two toddler sons go outside. She said neighbors knew from the state's online sex offender registry that Edenfield had a child molestation conviction.

"Why were they allowed to move into the middle of a trailer park with all these children?" Maynard said. "That's what everybody wants to know."

Ironically, it was another sex-offender law that led Edenfield to move last year from downtown Brunswick to the mobile home park where Christopher lived.

That law keeps sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools and other places where children congregate. Police chief Matt Doering said Edenfield's old home had been too close to a playground.

Doering said Friday he expects to charge Edenfield, his parents and a family friend, Donald Dale, with Christopher's murder.

Edenfield is currently charged with violating his probation, which prohibits him from contact with children under 18, because he told police he played a role in the boy's abduction.

His parents, David and Peggy Edenfield, and Dale have been jailed on charges they lied to police when they denied knowing anything about the boy's disappearance.

The Atlanta-based Southern Center For Human Rights sued to stop the new living restrictions from taking effect last July, arguing they would evict sex offenders from the vast majority of residential areas in Georgia.

"This crime is so sad and terribly sickening, but using the reference point that the suspect lived near a bus stop is the same as saying he lived in Georgia," said Susan Totonchi, a spokeswoman for the civil rights group. "There's nowhere in Georgia that's not near a bus stop."

U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper ruled the bus stop restriction would be unenforceable unless school boards designated official stops. After three of Georgia's 159 counties did so, Cooper blocked counties from evicting any sex offenders while the litigation was pending.

The attorney for Glynn County's school system had recommended against designating bus stops, given the court action, but school board member Ruby Robinson said she plans to renew those efforts.


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