Not in My Backyard!

Citizens rally to keep paroled murderers and sex offenders from settling in their communities

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Police Captain Kevin Collins sputters with outrage when he speaks of the night five years ago when 15-year-old Craig Price murdered Joan Heaton and her two daughters in their home. "We think of what these little kids went through . . . that screaming . . . that unmerciful attack." When police arrived at the Heaton house in Warwick, Rhode Island, they found three broken bodies: Joan, 39, had been stabbed 11 times, strangled and bitten in the face; Jennifer, 10, had been knifed 62 times; Melissa, 8, had eight stab wounds and a crushed skull.

Collins and many citizens are determined that Price will never return to Warwick -- or any other community, for that matter. Price is scheduled to be released in October, when he turns 21. Because he was a juvenile when he committed those murders -- and a fourth one in 1987 -- Rhode Island law requires that Price be set free when he reaches the age of majority, and that his juvenile criminal record be sealed. "A four-time killer can get out and buy a gun. He can work in a day-care center. He can drive a bus," says Collins. "What a birthday present that is." To thwart that possibility, Collins and the victims' relatives have launched a grass-roots effort to keep Price behind bars. The group has flown planes over four states, towing banners that read: KILLER CRAIG PRICE; FREE OCT. 11, 1994, MOVING TO YOUR CITY? BEWARE. They've gathered signatures demanding that Price be kept in prison. And they are planning a national ad campaign that Collins hopes will make Price's name a household word.

The Rhode Island effort is not a lone crusade. Citizens are increasingly taking up the environmental battle cry of NIMBY -- not in my backyard! -- and rallying to block former convicts from settling in their communities. Local groups are pressing state assemblies for tougher detention laws and parole conditions. When legislators don't respond quickly enough, citizens take it upon themselves to sound the alert. As a direct result, more and more states are enacting laws that put the interests of the community before the rights of ex-prisoners. The laws, says Patrick Stafford of the Southern Legislative Conference, are "very representative of the fundamental shift in the approach to crime. Not so long ago, it was 'Early release, early release! Prisoners' rights, prisoners' rights!' " The new mood, says Stafford, is "concern for those people the offender hurt."

The loudest demand is for notification laws that alert citizens when a sex offender is about to be released into their community. At present, 38 states require that local police be notified when a release is imminent. Last week New Jersey legislators scrambled to answer citizens' demands for a law that would require authorities to notify community members as well. The outcry for the so-called Megan's Law follows the July 29 rape and murder of seven-year- old Megan Kanka. Paroled child molester Jesse Timmendequas, who has been charged with the crime, had been living across the street.

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