3 sex offenders face Halloween-related charges in Missouri

ST. LOUIS | Three southeast Missouri men face charges for violating Missouri's new law restricting the actions of convicted sex offenders on Halloween.

Cape Girardeau County prosecutor Morley Swingle announced the misdemeanor charges Friday against 30-year-old Terry Greable of Jackson, 59-year-old Armando Torres of Cape Girardeau, and 40-year-old Sammy Sweaney of Cape Girardeau. All three are due to appear in court Dec. 8.

Swingle said the men failed to comply with the provision requiring that they post a sign outside their home stating that no candy would be given out. Sweaney was charged with a second count for failing to leave all outside lights off during Halloween evening.

The law approved by the Legislature in May and signed by Gov. Matt Blunt in June requires that sex offenders avoid all Halloween-related contact with children from 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 31. It requires them to remain inside their homes with the outside lights off, and to post a sign saying they have no candy.

A violation is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail.

At an injunction hearing in federal court in St. Louis last week, attorney Chris Quinn, arguing for the state, said the law is aimed at protecting children on a night when many visit strangers' homes, sometimes without their parents.

"Sex offenders pose a risk of reoffending that's higher than anyone else," he said during the hearing.

The law is being challenged by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union. A federal appeals court agreed to allow the law to stand for this Halloween.

ACLU attorney Anthony Rothert wondered why Swingle's office would file charges in a case still in litigation.

"Law enforcement officials know it's very likely the statute is unconstitutional at the very least for people convicted before (the law) went into effect," Rothert said. "By enforcing a law they should know is unconstitutional, they're exposing themselves and taxpayers to potential lawsuits and damages."

Swingle said he had no qualms about moving forward, even as the issue remains unresolved in federal court.

"This is the way the law's supposed to happen," Swingle said. "The prosecutor files his charge and puts up or shuts up in state court."

It isn't certain if any other counties have filed charges related to the Halloween law. Eighteen people were arrested in Christian County in southwest Missouri for allegedly failing to comply. But a woman in the prosecutor's office there said Friday that no charges have been filed. She said it was likely that reports were still being compiled and charges remained possible.

Cape Girardeau County appeared to be taking an aggressive approach to enforcing the new law. At the injunction hearing in St. Louis, the judge questioned a letter sent by the county sheriff's department to registered sex offenders, essentially warning them that police would be watching for violations.