ATLANTA - Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan says 21 sex offenders who were on Georgia’s sex offender registry just weeks ago have now been removed from it.
Documents from the GBI indicate at least 15 of the cases involve child molestation or other crimes involving kids.
Keenan says his agency maintains the registry with input from Georgia sheriffs.
He says all 21 had previously received pardons or "restoration of civil and political rights" from the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, and not because they were innocent.
“They’re still guilty,” Keenan said.
Court ruling removes offenders from registry
Keenan says the 21 have been removed because of a ruling in May by the Georgia Supreme Court involving a man who pleaded guilty to aggravated sodomy of his 6-year-old daughter. The court basically found that because he obtained a pardon in 2013, he should no longer be on the sex offender registry. Keenan disagreed.
“These are sex offenders that should be on the sex offender registry so that the public can protect themselves,” Keenan said.
Pardons and Paroles spokesman Steve Hayes says in each of the 21 cases, a past board determined the offender had been rehabilitated and had served all his sentence.
“A pardon doesn’t expunge a criminal record,” Hayes said. “A pardon is an act of forgiveness by the state. It is a statement that gives that offender, in most cases, employment opportunities to go forward in life.”
Parole board toughens application process
Hayes says no registered sex offenders have been pardoned since 2013 and the board has toughened up the application process. Starting in July 2015, Hayes says, they now have one pardon application for registered sex offenders and one for everyone else.
The application process now requires a polygraph, a psychosexual evaluation, a 10-year wait from end of sentence and opportunity for input from the DA and victim, among other things.
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“The board recognized that it wanted as much information as possible,” Hayes said.
Hayes says, in total, 132 sex offenders have come off the sex offender registry in the past 11 months or so as a result of actions taken by judges across the state.
Victim says she wasn’t notified
A victim of one of the 21 men says she was never notified by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles.
She was just 3 years old when she was molested by Tommy Hill Jones. She is now in her 30s, living in a shelter and still coping with what happened to her all those years ago.
“I was walking up and down the streets of Rome, Georgia, on drugs and alcohol wondering what man’s house I was going to sleep at next trying to heal that hurt,” she told Channel 2’s Mark Winne.
Six months ago, she moved into Cobb Street Ministries.
“I’m finally, at this point, being able to turn everything loose to God,” she said.
“When did you find out that he had been granted a restoration in 2012 of civil and political rights by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles?” Winne asked.
“When I spoke to you,” she said.
She says she was horrified when she found out.
“I don’t think a sex offender's name ever needs to come off the list,” she said.
One offender already back in jail
Keenan confirmed the number of offenders would be 22, except the GBI discovered one of the men, Andrew Johnson, was convicted again on child molestation and will stay on the registry.
A local district attorney says he doesn’t believe child molesters can be rehabilitated.
“Based on 35 years of experience and a lot of knowledge about research in that area, I don’t believe that is possible,” Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said.
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