How convicted military sex offenders prey again
WASHINGTON — Matthew S. Carr is the type of serial sex offender public registries were designed to track.
While serving in the U.S. Air Force, Carr approached women by posing as a doctor training in gynecology. He persuaded them to submit to pelvic exams as he inserted medical instruments, drew blood samples and even administered an injection near one victim’s genitals.
A military court at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota convicted the airman in 2003 of indecent assault against seven women and sentenced him to seven years in prison.
Exactly how Carr avoided registering as a sex offender when he got out is unclear, but a critical error occurred. The military records sent to civilian authorities mistakenly described lesser assault charges, according to a federal probation officer.
When the mother of a Reedsburg, Wis., woman typed “Matthew Carr” — the name of her daughter’s new boyfriend — into sex offender registries in the summer of 2010, nothing turned up.
She soon found herself racing the 45 minutes to Reedsburg to confront Carr after another daughter’s research revealed his military crimes. By then, her daughter had already submitted to multiple “exams” by the convicted sex offender.
“My blood turned absolutely cold,” said the mother, whom Scripps is not identifying to protect her daughter’s privacy. “I’ve never felt such danger, such helplessness as a mom before.”
Charges were brought against Carr, and he was convicted and sent to prison.
An investigation by local police uncovered similar allegations involving a woman 1,000 miles away in New York, where Carr lived after leaving military prison. She didn’t press charges.
A nine-month Scripps News investigation found that Carr is among hundreds of convicted military sex offenders who do not appear on the registries created to alert the public and prevent repeat crimes. Of 1,312 cases, at least 242 are not on any public U.S. sex offender registries.
The reasons vary. Unlike the civilian system, where federal law requires offenders to register before leaving prison, the military requires them to self-register when they’re released — but many don’t. Records can get garbled during transmission to civilian authorities. And in many places, translating a military crime to its civilian equivalent can be confusing. Without a good match, an offender convicted in the military might be able to avoid registering.
In Carr’s case, officials are trying to make sense of two confusing and contradictory paper trails that may have played a role. Although military court opinions reviewed by Scripps accurately documented Carr’s crimes as “indecent assault,” federal probation officials say the paperwork they received from the Air Force and forwarded to New York described Carr committing a lesser crime — “assault consummated by battery.”
That offense is equivalent to a civilian misdemeanor, which would not qualify someone for the sex offender registry, said a spokeswoman for New York’s Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders. State law bars her from discussing specific cases, she said.
For Reedsburg Police Chief Tim Becker, the breakdown that kept Carr off sex offender registries was profound.
“It’s reckless,” he said. “They’ve cleaned up what he’s done in the military and now he’s revictimized people outside in the civilian world. We could have stopped all that from happening.”
How many others among the more than 1,300 cases may have failed to register is difficult to know because the military keeps many details about these offenders confidential, including their photos, helping them conceal their crimes once they get out. Except for the Army, military officials won’t even divulge the state where a sex offender is released when leaving the service.
Zimman Casey was an Army private when a military court convicted him of assault and “indecent acts” on a young girl and sentenced him to three years in prison. After being released in 2002 from Fort Sill in Oklahoma, Casey headed for Texas, where the convicted sex offender effectively slid under the public radar while he preyed again.
By 2007, the former soldier had again been convicted after three more incidents of sexually assaulting a minor under 14. He was sentenced to 16 years
For civilian offenders, the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act requires that before leaving prison, they place their names and details of their crimes on a registry. They must re-register whenever they move to a new state. The public can search not only state registries, but also a Department of Justice website that links all sex offender registries nationally.
The military has a different system. Prisoners must state where they intend to move once they’re released. Defense officials then inform civilian authorities but rely on the sex offenders to actually move to that location and to register themselves.
But Casey didn’t register in Texas after leaving the service. And although federal law requires the military to track and make sure its sex offenders comply, Texas officials say they have no record of the Army notifying them about Casey. The military currently lacks legal standing to place convicted sex offenders on any registry. That responsibility rests solely with civilian authorities.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee who has led reforms against lax prosecutions of military sex offenders, called the registration failures “outrageous.”
“What we have, in fact, is an effort to protect defendants,” she said. “This is the kind of conduct that would require that they be on a civilian sexual offender list.”
Defense officials say they are developing a policy to ensure that sex-offenders comply with self-registration.
“The Department categorically does not condone the heinous behavior of convicted sexual offenders you cite as examples,” said Lt. Commander Nate Christensen, a Department of Defense spokesman. “That behavior simply has no place in our military.”
In August, the DOD Inspector General concluded that the military’s current system “enables offenders to evade registration,” and recommended changing the system so that offenders are registered before release. According to an IG review of cases during one quarter last year, 20 percent of the 197 offenders studied failed to self-register.
Asked why they don’t adopt the civilian model requiring registration before release, defense officials said that’s for their lawyers to review. They insisted that such a rule “would have no practical effect,” still leaving it up to a sex offender to sign up or dodge registries any time he moved to a new state.
In fact, according to the Inspector General, the rule would automatically put a military sex offender’s profile in a national FBI database, available to authorities anywhere in the country conducting even a simple traffic stop — and help target unregistered offenders.
In response to repeated requests for on-the-record interviews, a senior defense official who declined to be identified also said that changing the system and requiring offenders to register before release could cost the military millions, and would be a hardship in an era of shrinking budgets.
“This is not one of our primary missions in life,” he said in a telephone interview.
In a step forward early last year, the DOD required that the National Sex Offender Targeting Center be notified prior to the release of any military sex offender. The center, part of the U.S. Marshal Service, tracks offenders who fail to register. A senior official there says even they have had trouble getting photos of offenders from the military. And, he says, they have only enough resources to focus on those released since 2013.
That means someone like Army Specialist Basil Dwayne Kingsberry can elude notice for years — and has.
Court-martialed in 1999, he was convicted of rape and forcible sodomy and sentenced to 11 years and 10 months behind bars. The Army released him from Fort Leavenworth in July 2005 and, according to regulations, it was up to Kingsberry to register himself as a sex offender after release.
Kingsberry said he was heading to Adams County, Miss., and it appears the military forwarded at least some information to authorities there. But county officials have no evidence that Kingsberry ever arrived.
What is known is that Kingsberry went to Cobb County, Ga., and did attempt to register there. In letters to the Army marked “urgent,” the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) sought details about the Kingsberry case, but says it never got a response. The Army declined to provide any information about its handling of the case.
Georgia officials didn’t give up. GBI’s director, Vernon Keenan, says they reached out to Adams County officials for details about Kingsberry’s conviction. County officials shared what they knew, but unfortunately their file was incomplete. It showed Kingsberry’s conviction had been set aside, Keenan said. Missing was a military court’s later ruling upholding the original conviction. So Georgia decided Kingsberry didn’t need to register.
Keenan called such miscommunications and registry gaps “very dangerous.”
“The only information that we have came from the Mississippi authorities,” he said.
In the nearly 10 years since his release, Kingsberry hasn’t appeared on a sex offender registry anywhere in the country.
“The public is interested in this, and they have a right to be,” Keenan said. “There is only one government website that has more citizen access and hits on it than our sex offender registry and that’s the winning numbers in the Georgia lottery.”
Meanwhile, Kingsberry hasn’t been entirely invisible to police. Public records show he appeared in court in October on a domestic violence charge, which is how Scripps learned he was in York County, S.C. When Scripps contacted the York sheriff about his case, authorities, who had been unaware he needed to register, tried to track down Kingsberry.
At his home, they were told he’d moved. Capt. Jerry Hoffman reached Kingsberry on his cellphone and in a brief exchange told him he must register in South Carolina. Kingsberry thanked him, said he was moving to Georgia and provided an address. When Georgia officials knocked on that door, he wasn’t there.
Hoffman phoned back, but said a frustrated Kingsberry wouldn’t say where he was.
“Our second conversation was simply not as cordial,” said Hoffman.
And for now — with authorities in Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina in pursuit — Kingsberry seems to have disappeared again.
“Once a member separates from the military, the Department loses jurisdiction over individuals and the legal authority to either track or enforce sex offender registration,” said Lt. Commander Christensen, the DOD spokesman.
He said the Pentagon will continue a partnership with the United States Marshals Service that began in 2010 to ensure military sex offenders register. A senior defense official later told Scripps that one focus will be to work with an FBI database to improve notification to civilian authorities.
But Speier, the California congresswoman, says the military’s reliance on others to ensure that offenders get registered “shows a gross lack of responsibility.”
“Convicted sex offenders … should be identified to the civilian world and should be identified to local law enforcement,” she said. “That’s not happening and we have got to fix that in Congress.”
Speier says she will introduce a bill to create a DOD sex offender registry, accessible by civilian authorities. It would require the military to register its own sex offenders in the database before being released. The DOD Inspector General urged similar steps earlier this year.
Speier will also request the IG to investigate past releases of military sex offenders to see if they are complying with registration laws.
Such changes might help get someone like Derrick Coston on the registry.
On separate occasions while serving as a chief warrant officer in the Marines, he engaged in bizarre activity with three 12-year-old baby sitters. He instructed them to wear his wife’s shoes and walk on his nude or partially nude body, then he rubbed their feet against his genitals. When the Marines sentenced him to five years in prison, it was on charges of conduct unbecoming an officer — a military offense that doesn’t easily translate to civilian crimes or require registration in most states, including Arizona, according to officials with the Marshals Service.
Coston currently lives in New River, Ariz., just 15 doors from a school. He is not on the state sex offender registry.
©2014 Scripps News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC