Expand sex registry

Though not every juvenile sex offender will reoffend as an adult, there are compelling reasons for ensuring that teens convicted of serious sex crimes spend a long time registered as sex offenders — maybe even the rest of their days, as Attorney General Derek Schmidt advocates.

One such reason is Mark Anthony Baker.

As Tim Potter reported in the Sunday Eagle, Baker’s two convictions as a 15-year-old didn’t necessitate that he be listed on the sex-offender registry kept by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Now, at 25, he stands charged with murder and sodomy in the March death of his girlfriend’s 19-month-old son, Zane Pennington. Potter also reported that Baker was under suspicion of sexually abusing a child in a separate incident in Kansas last year.

The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services is performing a “comprehensive and exhaustive review of the facts of this tragic case,” according to SRS Secretary Rob Siedlecki. If mistakes were made, SRS needs to learn from them and alter procedures as necessary.

And for the state’s offender registry to work, parents and others in the public need to check it regularly (www.accesskansas.org/kbi/offender_registry/).

But they can’t know who isn’t on it but deserves to be.

Baker’s Kansas crimes as a juvenile — two counts of aggravated indecent liberties against two girls when he was 14 — put him on the registry while he lived in Texas. But that listing was of little use to those who came into contact with Baker after he returned to the Parsons area last year.

Baker’s case is a parent’s nightmare — a convicted but unregistered sex offender spending time with a toddler he allegedly went on to abuse sexually and “intentionally shake, torture or cruelly beat” to death.

But it’s a judge’s and legislator’s nightmare, too.

At the time Baker was sentenced for his earlier crimes, in 2002, judges had discretion about whether to put juveniles on the registry until they turned 18 or up to five years from the date of the offense (whichever was longer). Now, the law calls for juveniles convicted of aggravated sodomy and rape to go on the public registry for 15 years.

State lawmakers are finalizing Senate Bill 37, which includes the attorney general’s proposal for serious juvenile sex offenders and will affect other issues related to the state’s offender registry. As they do, they should think of Baker’s case, and carefully weigh the juvenile sex offender’s potential for rehabilitation against the public’s right to know — and the risks of not knowing.