The police chiefs of Montpelier and Barre, Vermont, issued public alerts Tuesday, to notify residents of the upcoming release of an untreated sex offender they said is “high risk.”
"This is a very rare situation," Chief Tony Facos of the Montpelier Police Dept. said. "We have a duty to notify the public; help protect the public, and let the public take care of themselves as best they can."
The convicted sex offender is 59-year-old Richard Laws. He will be released from prison Thursday after serving about 23 years for sexually assaulting a woman who rebuffed his advances in a bar in 1992. It is the policy of New England Cable News to not identify victims of sexual assault without their express consent.
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Police said Laws will be released to Barre for out-processing from the Vermont Department of Corrections. He has indicated he will then head to neighboring Montpelier, where he is expected to be homeless, said Chief Tim Bombardier of the Barre Police Dept.
"This is an effort to get the word out, and to keep our community safe," Bombardier said, noting such a public notification is legal in Vermont and is aimed only at informing citizens and not at further punishing Laws.
Especially troubling to police in Central Vermont, Bombardier and Facos said, is that Laws refused sex offender therapy while incarcerated.
Andy Pallito, the commissioner for the Vermont Department of Corrections, said it is not the norm for sex offenders to refuse to engage in therapy. Taking part and doing well in therapy can enable an offender to qualify for release closer to their minimum sentence, Pallito said.
Laws will be released after serving his very maximum sentence, Pallito noted.
"I'll be very honest with you, I don't hold out a lot of hope for his success as the circumstances exist today," said Mayor Thom Lauzon of Barre. "And without his cooperation, I don't see that happening."
Lauzon added that his city’s police department and Montpelier's will offer Laws help finding housing elsewhere, if he accepts responsibility for his 1992 crimes and seeks counseling.
Police will make fliers available to businesses, schools, and community spaces who want to let people know Laws will be in the area.
Additionally, Facos and Bombardier said Laws will have to check in with the Vermont Department of Public Safety every day so it can update Vermont Sex Offender Registry with his latest whereabouts.
Bar and restaurant owner Rich McSheffrey said he is now looking into whether he can get a no trespassing order to bar Laws from his business, the Cornerstone Pub and Kitchen. McSheffrey said he wants to keep Laws away from his female staff and customers.
"He stalked this person — this victim — in a bar, and I own one," McSheffrey told necn, explaining his motivation to investigate a no-trespass order. "We have registered sex offenders that live in the area, just like anywhere. They have to have a place to go. But the fact that he hasn't been rehabilitated — chose not to be rehabilitated in 23 years behind bars — and his decision is to be out and be homeless, that's scary."
Auburn Waterson with the Vermont Network Against Domestic & Sexual Violence said Laws' victim has a rare type of restraining order that prevents her attacker from hanging out in three entire towns near her home.
Those towns are Fayston, Warren, and Waitsfield, said Washington County State’s Attorney Scott Williams. The order does allow Laws to drive through those towns on Route 17 and Route 100, Williams added.
"I think she's doing well," Watersong said of the survivor of the attack. "I hope she feels supported."
Watersong said she hopes victims of sexual and domestic violence know that there are resources available statewide, including compassionate people trained to offer support, if they want to seek help. More on what resources are available can be found on this website.
Members of law enforcement promised added scrutiny when Laws walks out of prison later this week.