Stoddard County sex offender may have been incorrectly charged

Sunday, February 13, 2011

BLOOMFIELD, Mo. -- Stoddard County's prosecuting attorney says he received bad information that led to a Bloomfield man potentially being wrongly accused of a felony.

On Feb. 2, Gerald Barker, 38, was arrested and charged with being a registered sex offender residing within 1,000 feet of a preschool in Bloomfield. He had been stopped on a routine traffic matter, and Bloomfield police chief Cheryl Malone later realized Barker was a registered sex offender convicted of a sex crime in Florida in 2000. After a check of Barker's address, Malone realized Barker resided within the 1,000-foot limit of a preschool.

According to Megan's Law, a federal law passed in 1996, registered sex offenders are not allowed to reside within 1,000 feet of any school or day care. The law requires convicted offenders to register with the local sheriff's department upon moving into any area and to keep up with subsequent registrations on a periodic basis.

While a bond of $7,500 was originally set, he was released on his own recognizance after a recent court appearance regarding the charge.

According to Stoddard County Prosecuting Attorney Russ Oliver, complications exist in the case. When Malone realized Barker lived within 25 feet of an existing preschool, an inquiry showed utilities at Barker's residence were placed in his name after the September opening of the preschool.

After he was arrested arrest, it was learned that Barker had actually been residing at the residence before September, during which time he was making repairs to the house. Once those repairs were completed, the utilities were placed in his name.

Megan's Law prohibits registered sex offenders from moving within 1,000 foot of an existing learning or child care facility. The law does not, however, prohibit the registrant from remaining in a residence should a child care or school setting be established in an area where the offender's residence already exists.

The sex offender is, however, required to notify authorities that such a center has opened in their 1,000 foot territory.

Oliver issued an arrest warrant for Barker based on the information provided from Bloomfield police that utilities were placed in his name in September, after the preschool was up and running earlier that month. The assumption, Oliver said, was that he didn't live in the residence until the utilities were placed in his name.

"I was given some misinformation," Oliver stated earlier this week, regarding the information that came from Malone.

Confirming that theory is Stoddard County Carl Hefner who stated Barker had indeed notified him, in accordance with Megan's Law, that he was residing at the address in Bloomfield. That notification was made in August, one month prior to the opening of the preschool on Barker's block.

According to Vicki Henry of Missouri Citizens for Reform, Barker should not have been charged at all because his 2000 Florida conviction fell four years short of when Megan's Law specifically addressed the issue of living in proximity to a school.

"The law enforcement person is incorrect, and hopefully the judge will know this," Henry said in a Feb. 3 e-mail to The Daily Statesman.

"A dispute," Oliver stated, "deals with whether Mr. Barker committed a Class A misdemeanor [having to do with not reporting his residence in a timely manner] or a Class D felony for having violated Megan's Law."

According to Hefner, Barker was in compliance with his registration and his notification of address change.

Tammy Byrd, contact person with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, cited sections of Megan's Law referring to the charge against Barker. In opposition to Henry's statement, Section 589.400 to 589.425 of Megan's Law reads, "Any person who, since July 1, 1979, has been or is thereafter convicted of, been found guilty of, or pled guilty to committing, or attempting to commit a felony offense of Chapter 566.RSMO..." must register in accordance with the provisions of Megan's Law.

The law is retroactive back to 1979, even though it came into law in 1996.

The penalty for non-compliance to register in accordance with Megan's Law is a misdemeanor for the first offense and a felony thereafter.

Barker was released following his Feb. 3 court appearance. According to Oliver, the original charge still stands but is subject to change. Barker is scheduled back in court Thursday in Bloomfield before Judge Joe Z. Satterfield.

Map of pertinent addresses

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