Timothy J. Szad
SPRINGFIELD — Correction officials said Thursday they have a new plan for a high-risk sex offender due to be released from prison: He’s moving out of state.
The Department of Corrections is notifying police in the place where the sex offender, Timothy Szad, is going but isn’t releasing the information publicly, said Dale Crook, the department’s director of field supervision.
Officials said last week that Szad, 53, would be living with his elderly parents in Springfield, but that plan fell apart after public outcry.
The case highlights a tough dilemma in releasing sex offenders: Correction officials and police sometimes see a requirement to notify the public about the possible danger, but broad notification can generate such opposition that living arrangements can fall apart.
A homeless sex offender is more dangerous than one with a stable place to live, said state Rep. Alice Emmons, chairwoman of the Vermont House committee that oversees correction.
“Where’s he going to go?” asked Emmons, D-Springfield. “Is he going to live under a bridge? Is that secure to a community?”
Szad was convicted in 2001 in a sexual assault against a 13-year-old boy. Authorities said he grabbed the boy, who was fishing, carried him across the Williams River in nearby Rockingham, handcuffed him and sexually assaulted him twice.
The defendant could have gotten life in prison but was offered a seven- to 20-year sentence in a plea bargain to spare the boy from testifying.
Szad, who’s at the Southern State Correctional Facility, declined to be interviewed, according to the prison’s superintendent, P. Mark Potanas. An elderly man who answered the door at the Szad family home this week refused to comment.
When the Department of Corrections announced Szad’s impending release last week, it took the unusual step of warning that blue-eyed, blond-haired boys of 12 or 13 could be in particular peril. Crook said the department sometimes issues such warnings when an offender has expressed particular victim preferences.
Szad cooperated with sex-offender treatment in prison but is still considered high risk, officials said.
Police Chief Douglas Johnston on Thursday said any relief within the Springfield community was tempered by the fact that Szad would be a free man after today and could return at any time. He said if Szad moved back to Vermont he would be required to notify the state sex offender registry within 24 hours.
Szad’s case has focused attention not only on the state’s public-notification practices for sex offenders but on the value and constitutionality of civil commitment laws, which about 20 states use to keep some offenders locked up in mental health facilities after their prison terms.
Vermont debated such a law eight years ago and decided against it, said Emmons, who counted herself among the opponents.
“You’re holding someone who has not committed a (new) crime,” she said. “Do we as a society in Vermont want to do that?”
The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Vermont chapter, Allen Gilbert, said the public needs to accept that sex offenders like Szad get out of prison when they complete their sentences.
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