Archive for Friday, October 20, 2000

Publisher threatened for printing sex-offender information

October 20, 2000

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— Two weeks ago, a reader slipped into the home of Times-News publisher Stephen Hartgen with a gun and an unspoken warning about the newspaper's decision to print the names of sex offenders.

Hartgen wasn't home that night, but his wife saw the gunman and fled with the couple's daughter to a neighbor's home to call police.

Left behind was an envelope containing a clipping from The Times-News listing registered sex offenders living in the newspaper's eight-county circulation area in southern Idaho. Also inside was a copy of the paper's 1998 editorial explaining its decision to become the first in Idaho to publish offenders' names, addresses and photographs.

Investigators have not solved the crime.

"We don't have a lot to work from," sheriff's spokeswoman Nancy Howell said. "Somebody has to be upset about this, but we're not sure why."

Hartgen has refused to discuss the incident, and the staff of the 23,000-circulation paper has been told not to speak to reporters about it.

The list of sex offenders, with photos and addresses, remains on the newspaper's Web site. It contains 116 names.

The eight-county area has a population of about 159,000, including 33,000 in Twin Falls.

The federal version of Megan's Law, signed by President Clinton in 1996, requires states to notify communities when convicted sex offenders live in the area. It leaves the details up to local authorities; Texas, for example, requires law enforcement agencies to regularly buy newspaper space for sex offender information, and at least 23 states post registries on the Internet.

Information on Idaho's sex offenders is available from the State Police to anyone who asks.

The Times-News has printed a list three times since 1998 on its own initiative, acknowledging in editorials that sex offenders might be harassed, that vigilantes might force them out of their neighborhoods or worse. It said that "publishing this information can have unintended consequences."




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