"Sex offender sanctuary" back open in Chilton County
They fear their community has become a sanctuary for rapists and child molesters. Their efforts to fight back have been shot down by a federal judge. ABC3340's Fighting For You investigated the situation in Chilton County, where residents say the law is not on their side.
Debra Morrison says she expected peace and quiet working her catering business from her home outside Clanton. Instead those dreams were shattered when she started getting sex offender notifications, lots of them.
"We figured it out; the preacher never told us," explains Morrison. Triumph Church Preacher Ricky Martin was setting up a half way house of sorts. The cluster of trailers behind his church and home are now home to convicted rapists and molesters.
"Nobody wants to be here now; it's too unsettling," says Morrison. The trailers are just yards from her backyard, where her grandchildren play. Morrison says she believes in second chances and knows they have to live somewhere, but so many and so close she questions. "We're stuck. It destroyed our community," explains Morrison.
She tells us of a scary incident: a man knocking on her granddaughter's window saying he "wanted the baby." Deputies were called.
Prosecutor CJ Robinson became alarmed seeing all the released prisoners coming from all over Alabama, even other states moving to the church property. The majority of their victims.. young children.
"Just two out of fifty were from Chilton County. It's alarming this has become a sanctuary for sex offenders," worries Robinson. He pushed legislation preventing such clustering of sex offenders. Pastor Martin sued and the ACLU took his case arguing his religious rights were being violated.
"We saw the handwriting on the wall. The law was repealed," recalls Robinson. He says the county couldn't afford a million dollar court fight they would not win. "It's a good example of an overreaching federal government that thinks it knows better how to run a local community," says Robinson. Late last year the lawsuit was dropped in federal court. Not long after, the sex offenders started moving in again.
ABC3340 News tried to speak with Pastor Martin. He referred us to his ACLU attorney. But repeated calls and emails were not returned..
In published reports Pastor Martin has said he is trying to help the men. Some though question his motives. They ask is he really helping them or just taking their money renting out the small trailers so they have an address as required by law? They do not see any rehabilitation or counseling efforts.
Chilton County Sheriff John Shearon says his deputies will continue to work to make sure the sex offenders abide by the law. The total number of sex offenders in Chilton County now stands at 154. ABC3340 News saw three on the church property during our recent visit.
"We're gonna buy a gun and have discussed a security system," says Morrison. But even with that, she says she'll never really feel safe again in her own home.