#childpredator | Watch now: Sex offender enforcement a ‘level playing field’ regardless of crime, Decatur police say | Public Safety

DECATUR — Macon County has 383 residents on the Illinois State Police database of registered sex offenders. They’re there because state law requires the registration for about 30 crimes, from child pornography and criminal sexual abuse to sexual exploitation of a child. 

Travis Blancett is a crime analyst with Decatur police who monitors the compliance of sex offenders with the law. He knows that some of them are the worst specimens of humanity you might wish to never encounter, but warns there is much to misread in offender labels.

“For example, the word ‘predator’ doesn’t necessarily mean that person’s offense was any more severe or less severe than another person’s offense; it just means they were convicted of a felony sex offense that requires lifetime registration,” he said.

Blancett now monitors some 500 offenders living in the Decatur area, close to a record high, and says his job teaches you that some offenders can face difficult lives. “There are apartments that won’t rent to sex offenders, employers who won’t employ sex offenders and nursing homes that won’t take them when they are older,” he explained.

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“I have one guy and I have no issues with him whatsoever, he’s not been back in trouble and he’s held down a good job. But he just can’t find a decent place to live. For several months he’s been trying to find a good home but he keeps hitting roadblocks.”

Decatur police Detective Charles Hendrix does the nuts and bolts work of going out to check offenders are obeying the registration laws and behaving themselves. Hendrix said the job teaches you there is no typical sex offender, and it’s a mistake to tar them all with the same brush.

“There are legitimate child predators that we monitor, but then there are others where maybe the guy was 18 and his girlfriend was 16 … and some of them are even married today,” he added.

A case from 1999

Paul Mason made a mistake once, as he phrases it, “a kiss and a touch” that was charged as aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

That was 22 years ago. Mason, who lives on the edge of Decatur near Long Creek, is 88 now and has no other criminal history. The U.S. Army veteran doesn’t think it’s fair that the label “Convicted Sexual Predator” and “Sex Offender” should follow him for all the days he has left in this life.

Mason said former Gov. Bruce Rauner didn’t think so and rejected his attempt for clemency several years ago. But here, in the court of public opinion, Mason begs for one last fair hearing and the chance for his peers, at least, to listen to his version of events and decide if he’s been treated fairly.

Mason used to regularly visit a Sullivan nursing home where his elderly mother-in-law was living. Frequently, when he arrived, he said, this other female resident would follow him around. He recalls her as being aged 74 with severe dementia and, he believes, she might have thought he was her late husband.

One day in 1999, she followed him into a room where they were alone, and Mason said his mistake was to act on a spur of the moment impulse and kiss her.

“I kissed her and she unbuttoned her blouse,” he recalls. “She had nothing on under her blouse. I reached out and touched one breast; no one saw me do it. That was it.” The court transcript of his sentencing claims a nursing home staff member witnessed the assault and alleges he both kissed the victim and “fondled” her breasts, which he disputes.

“I kissed her and made one touch only,” he insists. “And no one saw me do it.”

Asked by a reporter why the married man did what he did, Mason struggles for the right words to explain a spur-of-the-moment temptation. “I just don’t know; it was one of those things where a person loses their head and does things they shouldn’t do,” is the best he can manage. 

He recalls that the nursing home employee did come into the room afterward and saw them together, but repeats again that this person did not witness what had happened. Mason said he had confessed to the staff anyway. The nursing home reported the incident to the woman’s family.

Mason soon found himself arrested and booked on the charge of aggravated criminal sexual abuse, “aggravated” because of the victim’s age. He started out pleading not guilty but, on the advice of his legal counsel who charged him $700, he later switched the plea to guilty. He was sentenced in February 2000 to 48 months probation and 180 days in jail. He was ordered to serve 60 days right away (he did 30 days with day-for-day credit) and was then released to serve 120 days of electronically monitored home confinement.

The rest of the jail sentence — 120 days — was suspended and later forgiven with the condition he not have any other criminal issues, which he didn’t then and hasn’t done since. However, he still has to register as a sex offender. For life.

His wife, Helen, died three years ago. They were married 50 years. Mason recalls her as a true partner who took the marriage vow of sticking by him through thick and thin seriously. He had not told her what had happened at first, but had to confess all after she was summoned to the nursing home, shortly after the incident, and was told her husband was no longer welcome there. That made for a painful conversation on the long drive back to Decatur.

“But on the road back she told me ‘I’ll stick with you, I’ll not leave you,’” he recalled. “That is what she said, and she did.”

Discretion in each case 

Detective Hendrix said he can’t change the law to make life easier for compliant offenders like Mason, his job is only to enforce the rules. But Hendrix, who doesn’t monitor Mason because his address falls under the purview of the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, says the only right way go about the job of enforcement is with a sense of humanity and discretion. That means using his best judgement to weigh each circumstance, and each offender, by their merits if they are accused of flouting the sex offender register regulations. Those regulations range from updating address information with the police to not having a porch light on during Halloween.

“It’s like with regular crime, only 10% of the people I monitor cause me the majority of the problems, you know?” he said.

The detective would not go so far as to say he feels sorry for some offenders, but he understands that life “can be tough” for those whose crimes stay with them forever.

“Like I said, the best I can do in dealing with them is to use my discretion in each case,” the detective added. “So most of the time I don’t even know what this particular person did, and I don’t want to know. I would rather start out with a level playing field and then use that discretion.”

Mason, meanwhile, keeps insisting he isn’t asking for any special treatment. But having served his sentence and spent nearly 22 years on the Sex Offender Registry already, he feels it’s time he was struck from the list and given some final peace of mind in his remaining years.

“It’s just something that sticks with you no matter how hard you try and no matter how good you live,” he said of the feeling of shame that comes with having your name on that infamous list. “It sticks with you, and it’s always there.”

Contact Tony Reid at (217) 421-7977. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyJReid

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