Disabled Man on Sex Offender Registry for Prank Gone Wrong Will Get a New Hearing
"Once you have the Scarlet Letter, it doesn't go away until you're gone."
An intellectually disabled young man placed on the sex offender registry for doing his friend's bidding has been granted a new hearing. The Illinois Prison Review Board will review his case, most likely sometime this summer. His mother is asking, on his behalf, for executive clemency.
He deserves it.
Adam is 34 years old and still must be reminded to brush his teeth and shave. He was 16 before he stopped wetting the bed. Before he landed on the registry, his greatest pleasures in life were the Special Olympics, scuba diving (a sport he learned from an organization serving people with disabilities), and his part-time job wiping tables and cleaning the bathroom at a local restaurant.
When he was 26, the young man next door invited him over. Carol Nesteikis, Adam's mom, wrote about that young man—whom she gives the pseudonym "Reuben"—in Persuasion:
We embraced Reuben, a child dealing with many psychological and behavioral problems, like one of our own. We had him to our house often and took him on camping trips. By the time Adam and Reuben entered their twenties, the neighbors had adopted Reuben and were also caring for his young niece.
But unbeknownst to us, Reuben—now a young adult—was re-enacting the sexual abuse he had been subjected to as a boy, and was molesting both my son and his niece. My heart breaks for this little girl, who has endured so much trauma. One day, Reuben told my son that it would fun if Adam unzipped his pants and exposed himself to the 5-year-old girl. Adam did. He had no understanding of what he had done, nor did he touch her.
When the girl told her parents what had transpired, they called the police. Reuben and Adam were both charged with 19 felonies. Adam's parents fought for a year to have the charges dropped, but finally agreed to a deal: Adam would plead guilty to one misdemeanor, wear an ankle monitor for two years of probation, and be on the Sex Offender Registry for 10 years.
He is in his ninth year on the Registry now. Doesn't that make the prison review almost moot? I asked Nesteikis
"Him coming off the registry doesn't mean that we aren't still stuck following all the rules and regulations," she said. "He still has to follow the residential restrictions." In Illinois, that means he can't live within 500 feet of "schools and day cares and churches with bible classes or anything like that." He is forbidden to step foot in a park. And his parents, in their late 60s, know that someday he will probably have to be cared for by his sister, who moved to Florida. Even if Adam is removed from the registry in Illinois, his conviction means he would have to go back on it in Florida.
"I think even the judges and attorneys think that once you're off the registry, those other requirements end," said Nesteikis, who co-founded Legal Reform for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (LRIDD). "Our attorneys said, 'Well, at least after 10 years, you're all done.' But that's not true. Once you have the Scarlet Letter [of a sex offense], it doesn't go away until you're gone."
That's why Nesteikis is so hopeful the Review Board will expunge Adam's conviction. Only that would allow him to resume his former life—or as much as can be salvaged. His mom isn't sure he can recover from nine years "of being in pretty much solitary confinement." Before the conviction, she says, "He was very social. He would visit with the neighbors—they know him very well." Two of those former neighbors are set to testify at the hearing, as is retired Cook County Assistant States Attorney Scott Cassidy, a family friend.
Adam "doesn't know what the registry is, or what it means to have a record or conviction," said his mom. But he does know that something is coming up—something big, that just might allow him to go back to his beloved job and the Special Olympics.