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Md. girl's death sharpens criticism of sex offender laws

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Norton is flabbergasted that a man who raped a minor could be free so soon and associating with children.

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"What . . . is he doing back out on the street, and what is he doing having contact with this child?" he said. "I think the problem is with these guys going through a revolving door."

Legislators

State Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford) co-sponsored Maryland's version of Jessica's Law, a bill passed in 2006 that set sentencing guidelines for child sex offenders. It's named for Jessica Lunsford, a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, sexually abused and killed by a convicted child sex offender.

At the urging of activists such as Norton, Jacobs and other legislators have tried unsuccessfully to tighten the law to prevent offenders from getting parole. She thought Sarah's case would "absolutely" inspire legislators to reinforce the law.

"I've already had e-mails from people asking about it," Jacobs said. "It's about how far can we go, and I'm in favor as going as far as we can."

Jacobs also said the case exposes weaknesses in how Maryland communicates with other states about child sex offenders. If Leggs was considered "high risk" in Delaware, she thinks he should have been in Maryland, too.

Bills filed

Del. Mike D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Cecil), who, heading into the 2010 legislative session, has pre-filed three bills that would tighten child sex offender laws, said he has been "seething" over the Salisbury case.

He's considering such options as civil incarceration, cracking down on plea bargains and allowing wiretapping of suspected child sex offenders.

"We have very strict laws in Maryland, but I think more has to be done," he said. "These child predators are incorrigible. We have to find ways to deal with this threat to our community."


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