Pharos-Tribune

Opinion

January 13, 2007

Stephanie’s Law

Registry among measures state should adopt

State Sen. Tom Weatherwax says he’s working on a law that would require a registry for convicted murderers.

That’s a great idea.

The law would be aimed at preventing a repeat of what happened to 16-year-old Stephanie Wagner last fall.

Wagner worked alongside Danny Rouse never knowing that he was on parole for the 1979 killing of a 5-year-old boy in Kansas. Rouse had been convicted of stabbing the boy after the child’s mother refused his sexual advances. Authorities say he also stabbed the mother and left her for dead.

Rouse had been sentenced to life in prison, but he was paroled after serving 26 years behind bars.

News of Wagner’s death spurred a controversy in Kansas. Some, including Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, called for a review of parole board practices. Others said the problem really lay with a law allowing convicts with life sentences to become eligible for parole after 15 years in prison.

Lois Ventura, a University of Toledo professor who specializes in the area of criminal justice and mental health, says states need to do a better job of evaluating prisoners before releasing them.

“I think you have to evaluate somebody when they get out of prison to determine whether they are a danger to themselves or others,” she said.

Weatherwax, a Logansport Republican, said the Indiana Department of Correction apparently had no warning concerning Rouse’s mental health issues.

“I don’t think the parole officers were playing with all the cards on the table because they didn’t have all this information,” he said.

Rouse also has been identified as a suspect in the 1979 shooting death of Greg Hildebrandt’s wife, Lela. Hildebrandt believes authorities didn’t push that investigation as far as they might have because Rouse was already serving a life sentence in Kansas.

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