According to the Indiana Sheriffs Association, Willis D. Fitch is a 66-year-old white male living in Center Point. He is six feet tall, weighs 165 pounds, and has hazel eyes. He is also a convicted child molestor.
Fitch is one of 27 Clay County residents listed on the Indiana Sex and Violent Offender Registry, located at www.indianasheriffs.org. By state law, the Clay County Sheriff's Department -- and every other sheriff's department in the state -- must try to keep track of every sex or violent offender within the county.
Offenders can be placed on the registry for any one of 12 crimes: Rape, criminal deviate conduct, child molesting, child exploitation, vicarious sexual gratification, child solicitation, child seduction, sexual misconduct with a minor, incest, and sexual battery. The other two crimes, kidnapping and criminal confinement, can place an offender on the list if the victim is younger than 18.
Of the Clay countians in the registry, 18 reside in Brazil. Rosedale, Bowling Green, and Staunton are each reported to hold one. Center Point, Knightsville, and Carbon have two apiece.
Mike Eslinger of the Indiana Sheriffs Association said there are approximately 7,072 offenders on the registry statewide.
As Clay County Sheriff, Robert Carter is responsible for maintaining information on the county's offenders and submitting it to the state. Besides that, he makes a print copy of the registry available to the public, taping pictures from the Web site on a door in the Sheriff's Department's lobby.
He says that while the registry is "a useful tool" for concerned parents to utilize, it is by no means a foolproof system.
"Obviously, it's going to be impossible to track down every move an offender makes if he desn't want to be tracked down," he said.
According to the registry Web site, sex and violent offenders are "required to register with the Sheriff of the county that has jurisdiction where the offender intends to live, work, or study for more than seven days" in a 180-day period. "That registration must occur within seven days of arriving in each jurisdiction..." the site continues.
The responsibility is not all in the hands of the offenders, however. When an offender is released from a correctional facility, an official of the facility is required by state law to submit the offender's name, offense and other vital information to the sheriff's department of the area where the offender expects to live.
Police also try to keep tabs on offenders by sending a registration form to the offender's registered address at least once a year -- or at least once every 90 days, if the offender is considered by a court to be a sexually violent predator -- and notifying the prosecuting attorney and the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute if the form is not returned.
Offenders are also not allowed to live within 1,000 feet of schools and one mile of the victim of their offense, unless a waiver has been obtained by a court or parole board.
As a rule of thumb, offenders are only required to register for 10 years after their release from a correctional facility. However, a person is required to register for life if he or she meets any of the following criteria:
- A sex and violent offense committed when the offender was 18 years of age or older against a victim who was less than 12 years old at the time of the crime,
- A sex and violent offense in which the offender caused serious bodily injury or death to the victim; used force or the threat of force against the victim or a member of the victim's family; or rendered the victim unconscious or otherwise incapable of giving voluntary consent, and
- Two or more unrelated sex and violent offenses.
Additionally, an offender must register for a time determined by the court if he is regarded as a sexually violent predator.
Carter said that the system, maintained by Ohio-based Intellicorp ltd., has had some glitches in the past. Among other problems, pictures and information have failed to show up. He encourages people with problems with or questions about the system to call the Clay County Sheriff's Department at 446-2535.