Moscow–Pullman Daily News: Advocate: Sex offender’s early release may be indicative of larger problem

Moscow-Pullman Daily News | May 12, 2007

Advocate: Sex offender’s early release may be indicative of larger problem

Moscow man released on probation after serving less than two years of life sentence

By Omie Drawhorn, Daily News staff writer

Convicted sex offender Steven Sitler was released on probation after a hearing last week, serving less than two years of a life sentence.

“He’s doing well; he’s doing everything the judge is telling him to do,” Latah County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Thompson said. “He’s out in an apartment on probation.”

Some say the early release, and that of others like him, is evidence of a system that is broken.

Sitler, 22, was convicted of one felony count of lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor child under the age of 16 in July 2005. He was sentenced that September, and his life sentence was subject to review each year.

Bob Marsh, an associate professor in the criminal justice administration department at Boise State University, has done studies on sex offenders for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. He said it’s common for sex offenders to serve short jail or prison terms.

“There are a good many that don’t get any prison time,” he said. “They get probation, which is a way to, in effect, monitor them for a longer period.”

Marsh said the average time in prison for any sex offender is about 42 months.

He said many pedophiles don’t have a criminal history, so they are convicted as first-time offenders, and the victims often are friends or acquaintances of the offender.

“We need to do a lot more prevention so parents have a clue who the potential perpetrator is,” he said. “We also need bona fide treatment programs both in and out of prison.”

There is a provision of Idaho law that requires mandatory minimum prison sentences of 15 years for repeat sex offenders.

Sue Fellon, executive director of the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, said the time sex offenders serve ultimately depends on the severity of the case and the sentence that was handed down.

“When someone gets a life sentence and only does a little over a year, treatment certainly cannot be monitored during that short of time,” she said. “I think the jury’s still out on (whether) treatment helps everybody.”

She said there is no guarantee treatment will keep those convicted of sex offenses from re-offending.

“Pedophiles choose a child and are seeking power and control,” Fellon said. “(They) made a choice, nobody makes them do it.”

She said pedophiles usually aren’t the type to cause problems in prison and generally are well-behaved, which may help some get out early for good behavior.

Fellon said there’s a message sent to victims when offenders are released early.

“Victims of sex abuse and assault often choose not to report and go through all this,” she said. “This is another threat on the pile. (Sitler) gets a slap on the hand; you’d get more prison time if you got a couple of DUIs.”

She said the system is there to help the victim, but offenders often are treated with more compassion.

Fellon said it’s the victims who end up serving the life sentence because they must live with the crime for the rest of their lives.

Thompson and Sitler’s attorney, Dean Wullenwaber of Lewiston, reached a plea agreement in September 2005 because Sitler admitted to other sex crimes he had committed in Moscow and Stevens County, Wash.

Second District Court Judge John Stegner ordered Sitler to serve another year in the Latah County Jail in April 2006.

Sitler originally was placed in the North Idaho Correctional Institution at Cottonwood under the retained jurisdiction program before being moved to the Latah County Jail.

Thompson said every sentence is unique, but “the majority (of sex offenders) go into probation right off the bat.”

Thompson said the judge determined that Sitler was amenable to treatment, so he structured the sentence so Sitler would have at least a full year in incarceration while being observed.

Sitler’s probation is not without strict stipulations, Thompson said.

He said Sitler is living in Moscow and cannot move anywhere without permission from his probation officer.

“If he ever wants to relocate outside the state, the other state has to agree to let him in,” he said.

Other conditions of his probation include submitting monthly reports to his probation officer, not leaving the probation district of Lewis, Idaho, Clearwater, Nez Perce and Latah counties without permission from his probation office and seeking and obtaining a job that he must keep unless he has the permission of his probation officer.

Sitler is not allowed to carry a weapon or consume alcohol or controlled substances, and he must pay restitution for counseling expenses of his victims. He is subject to polygraph tests at his own expense and cannot associate with any person under the age of 18 without another adult present who has been approved by his probation officer.

He also is not allowed to go to any city park, grade school, junior high or high school without supervision.

Thompson said Idaho does not have classes of sex offenders except for “violent sexual predator.”

“He has been screened by the review board and he does not meet the criteria for violent sexual predator,” he said.

Sitler is a former New Saint Andrews College student. He was expelled after he confessed to sexually abusing a Christ Church parishioner’s child.

Omie Drawhorn can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 234, or by e-mail at odrawhorn at