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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Through The Cracks, Again

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       Radio talk show hosts often talk about stories getting "buried" in the newspaper.

       What a crock.

       How can a story be "buried" if it ends up in print for thousands of eyes to see in print, even if it's on the last page of Section D?   Or, when it's on the paper's web page, even if you have to endure endless pop ups and Internet c'mons to to click on it?    I've been the subject of the odd newspaper story or two over the years, never making page one but still ending up in print.   Trust me, folks, people read the paper.    The only way to make sure a story gets buried is to not print it.    It's called "spiking".

       Then again, even the printed word or online story can get lost in the shuffle, especially if it breaks on a late Friday afternoon or during a weekend.    Even the most avid news consumer has a tendency to unplug for a few days, opting to reconnect Sunday night or Monday when the reality of the workweek settles in.    It's the journalistic equivalent of the tree falling in the woods.

       Let's hope the story of a Racine woman's murder--and the weekend developments about her suspected killer--don't get lost in a weekend of Badgers upsets and fresh Packers injuries.

       Police arrested 65 year old Wilbert Thomas Saturday in connection with last week's murder of Sandra Teichow who was found dead Thursday in a parked car in Racine.    The Journal/Sentinel says Thomas, a registered sex offender, avoided civil commitment as a sexual predator a decade ago when prosecutors missed by three days a deadline to file a motion to have him declared sexually violent and thus, held indefinitely in a secure mental treatment facility.

       Get your head around that.    Better yet, read on to find out how it happened, because it was more than a three day paperwork flail that put this guy back among us.   Experts and the courts played a huge rule in assuring a multiple offender his freedom, a move that cost a woman her life 11 years later.   

       The paper says Thomas has a long history of sexual crimes, which begs the question as to why he was even out in the first place.    In fact, he was charged this year with a felony and a misdemeanor for violating sexual registry requirements.    His first sex crime happened in 1965 and four years later he did time for armed robbery.   In between, he was convicted of sexually assaulting a California woman and did eight years for the second degree sexual assault of a woman in a bar in 1992.

       How many chances does a guy get?    In Thomas' case, at least one more, with a lot of help.   

       The Journal/Sentinel says, "Near the end of Thomas' prison term in the 1992 case, a psychologist for the state Department of Corrections concluded that Thomas was not a sexual predator and should be released. The Racine County district attorney's office disagreed and hired its own psychologist, who concluded that Thomas should be held as a sexual predator.  Thomas' lawyers appealed, and the state Supreme Court ruled in Thomas' favor in early December 1999. On Dec. 28, 1999 - three days after Thomas was to have been released from prison - the district attorney filed another petition to commit him. Thomas' attorneys argued that it was too late to file the new petition because Thomas had finished serving his prison term. The state appeals court agreed, and Thomas was not committed to an institution after his release from custody."

       A state psychiatrist had Thomas' back, as did the Wisconsin Supreme Court and a state appeals panel.   Thomas' record spoke for itself, but plenty of people seemed more concerned about his rights than our safety.   It's happened before.   And, it keeps occurring.    How many more Wilbert Thomases are out there, dangerous yet free because a system that should be worried about our protection is more concerned about protecting the rights of repeat offenders?    In a world where we find out daily about Innocent men getting freed after doing prison time for crimes they didn't commit, can we tolerate a system that then allows the dangerous to walk free?    Am I the only one who finds this both unbelievable and unacceptable?

       We'll find out in the days ahead, if the story of Thomas' freedom remains lost amid a weekend of football and mid-fall fun.  

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