As Sean Vincenzo opens the door to his mother’s home, he is dressed in a blue Atlanta Thrashers hoodie, gym shorts and house slippers. Vincenzo lives with his mother because no apartment or condo complex wants him in their respective buildings.
“I’m resigned to the fact that I have to live with my mom,” Vincenzo says.
His sandy-blonde hair is disheveled as he has been watching football all day and therefore has not had to stand on ceremony for much of anything today. He leads the way down into the basement to his man-cave as his white German Shepherd, Denver, follows.
The walls are decked out in Detroit Red Wings pictures, posters and memorabilia. Vincenzo is a huge hockey fan and was actually scouted in high school by the Hershey Bears, a minor league hockey affiliate of the Washington Capitals, but football injuries to both of his knees derailed his hockey career before it ever got started.
Also hanging on the wall is a Michigan hockey banner as Vincenzo has a degree in environmental science from the university. But, for the same reason that Vincenzo lives with his mother, his degree hasn’t landed him a job in his field. See, along with being a standout hockey and football player, a college graduate, and a Red Wings fan, one other thing describes Vincenzo, whether just or not: registered sex offender.
“I went down to senior week to celebrate my graduating,” Vincenzo says. “I wanted to relive my memories and enjoy the time I had, so I recorded the parties and the goings on; the wildness of Senior Week. At the end of the week, I had around 40, 45 hours of footage and I had this great idea of selling what I had called ‘Seniors Gone Wild.’ It was seniors that I had graduated with getting topless and doing exploited acts, and I had it all on videotape.”
For Vincenzo, this was a brilliant idea. In 2003 when Vincenzo came up with the idea, the infamous “Girls Gone Wild” brand was at its peak. The concept has a man with a camera following random women around during spring break and watching them, drunk or sober (usually drunk) take their tops off. That guy made a boatload of money, so why couldn’t Vincenzo? Well, because he ran into a bit of problem.
“I had all of the signed waivers, documents, everything, but not everybody graduates at 18,” Vincenzo says. “So when they had signed the waiver, they didn’t have power of attorney. When I came back from Senior Week and I had made my video and started distributing it, I had mass-produced child pornography of girls aged 16-17 exploiting themselves.”
For Vincenzo, that was just the beginning of the turmoil that has plagued him for the last ten years and will most likely continue to haunt him for the rest of his life, despite his and others best efforts.
The Maryland Sex Offender Registry began in 1996 as a resource to help residents keep track of every registered sex offender in the state of Maryland. The idea of the registry was first initiated due to Megan’s Law.
7-year-old Megan Kanka was brutally raped and murdered by a twice-convicted sex offender living across the street from her in New Jersey. President Clinton signed the law in May 1996, which required all states to adopt a version of Megan’s Law and put it into effect.
The registry, which is open for public knowledge, allows anyone to access cases, charges and personal information of the registrant. Officer Chuck Gimmel believes that with the registry it has improved the safety of the community dramatically.
“For every 100,000 people in Baltimore, 126 of them are registered sex offenders,” says Gimmel. “Knowing that we are keeping track of a number like that is huge.”
In 2008, numerous features on the registry were added to help residents protect themselves and take precautionary measures within their communities. The public can access zip codes, names, counties and specific addresses of registered sex offenders. It is with hope that these specific features will help residents become aware of who is living within their communities.
“Every day we are trying to add improvements to the registry to become more efficient,” says Gimmel.
As of Sept. 2013, The Maryland Sex Offender Registry had the allotted total of sex offenders at 10,653. Due to the help of the registry, 1,601 have been incarcerated and 9,052 are being closely tracked.
It is expected that within the next two years the Maryland Sex Offender Registry will take on a face lift and have numerous new features and information of registered offenders added.
Sean Vincenzo sits in his recliner perusing his fantasy football roster. He is in first place at 9-1 and stands to win $2500 should he win the league. This is just one way that Vincenzo has found a way to make money. Being a registered sex offender can make earning a living quite difficult, even if he does have a college degree.
Vincenzo drives a truck for a living because, as he says, “they don’t really care what you’ve done in your life, as long as you can drive.”
While the hours and the work might not be ideal, this is just one of many things Vincenzo has had to endure in his quest to clear his name from the registry list and get back to a normal life.
“I pled guilty to possession with intent to distribute child pornography, spent a year and a day in jail, got out and did my five years of supervised probation in which I had to remain drug and alcohol-free, remained off the internet and the computer for five years, and successfully completed a sexual disorders group.”
Vincenzo has stayed clean since his release from prison. He doesn’t drink or do any drugs, even though his probation is over, as evidenced by the Mountain Dew that he is sipping on. Any time he is out and sees any girl that could be underage in a social environment, he removes himself from the situation as even being seen in the same area can carry a negative connotation for a registered sex offender.
“You never know when someone is going to get mad and make up a story,” Vincenzo says.
Vincenzo also says that a key to staying focused and moving forward is setting limitations for himself, staying busy, never getting down on himself, and not dwelling on the past.
“No matter what happens, I just keep my head up and looking forward, because nothing will ever be as bad as when I was locked up.”
With that attitude, and perhaps the help of a proven attorney, Vincenzo may still have a chance to be taken off the registry.
Just this past June, an article by Aaron C. Davis was published by the Washington Post, naming Robert M. Haines Jr. as the first person to have been removed from Maryland’s strict sex offender registry list. Haines is just the first of many cases predicted to follow that will mysteriously disappear from the pages of the registry.
No traces of Haines past is left behind. It’s as if he never occupied a space among the dangerous sexual predators that flooded the site. It’s a clean slate for the former middle school teacher, who in 1983 pled guilty to abusing a 13-year-old student.
Haines virtually was able to walk right off the pages of the iron clad sex registry because of his recent favorable ruling from Maryland Court of appeals. Haines claimed that because he was convicted before 1995, when the Maryland sex offender registry was created, he should not be held to the same stipulations put in place in 2010, when Maryland’s sex offender laws were tightened after the case against Thomas Leggs, which led to Sarah’s law.
Leggs was convicted of killing 11-year-old Sarah Haley Foxwell, which led to alarming gaps in the system that allowed Leggs’ previous sexual offenses to go unnoticed. Sarah’s case would become the catalyst for the strict restrictions on sex offenders that would make it impossible for sex offenders like Haines to be able to escape the registry. The ruling set forth by Haines and his unconstitutional punishment will likely open the floodgates to similar suits that, if won, will lead to the undoing from the efforts set forth by Sarah’s law.
Vincenzo is not alone in his unfortunate walk of shame through life.
For 47-year-old Gary Slampson, Jan. 19, 2002 was the day that would change his life considerably. In this case, it would define who he was in every possible aspect and haunt him for the rest of his life.
For the past 11 years, Slampson has put forth blood, sweat and tears into redefining himself. Essentially, he has worked to fit the loose puzzle pieces of his life back together after one incident changed his life forever.
“It’s crazy to think that one action can label you,” says Slampson. “I’ve been paying for that night for as long as I can remember.”
Slampson, who was placed on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry in 2002, has been labeled as a Tier 1, Fourth Degree sex offender ever since.
The day Slampson was categorized in the Tier 1 sex offender grouping was the day that he lost his identity. The official Tier 1 categorization recognizes a plethora of widespread sex crimes. Possession of child pornography, sex trafficking by force and transmitting information about a minor to further criminal sexual conduct are just three of numerous crimes.
Every day, Slampson is disgusted and ashamed to be grouped into a category of crimes that he would never even think to commit.
“My case online says I am a Fourth Degree sex offender,” says Slampson. “Everyone automatically assumes the worst, child pornographer, but they’re wrong.”
Slampson got into a heated argument with his then 17-year-old stepdaughter, and that argument quickly turned into a fiasco that he would never forgive himself or his stepdaughter for.
“We were fighting uncontrollably, next thing I knew, the police were at my door,” says Slampson. “All of a sudden, I was being arrested.”
Slampson’s stepdaughter had told police that when they were fighting, Slampson had made inappropriate gestures towards her. That claim alone had a significant impact on Slampson’s fate. The next day, Slampson’s stepdaughter revoked her statement and stated that it was said to retaliate towards Slampson. But by then it was far too late.
Today was the day that Slampson dreads twice every year, registration day. Until the year 2017, Slampson must re-register himself into the Maryland Sex Offender Registry. Failure to do so would cause grounds for being arrested and incarceration. In order to successfully register you must check in with your local police department.
“Hey Chuck it’s me, Gary checkin’ in, everything’s the same as last time,” says Slampson.
“Hey Gare, good to hear from ya,” Chuck says back.
Chuck, who is formally known as the aforementioned Officer Chuck Gimmel, has been a friend and mentor to Slampson for the last 10 years. He has also been there when Slampson thought his life had no purpose.
“Gare has been doing anything to get his life back,” says Gimmel. “He is hardworking and dedicated to piecing it all back, he’ll get there.”
Slampson, who lost his job in 2002 due to his crime, has recently started his own business. He is also attending school for his master’s degree, and has started regularly attending church. He believes that while this process has been difficult, it was a life lesson to help him improve.
“I take this situation and use it to become successful,” says Slampson. “I lost everything from friends to my job, but I have certainly built myself up again.”
If there is one thing that Slampson wants to emphasize, it’s the persona. He believes that just because you are labeled a certain way doesn’t mean that should define your character.
“I get it, you think of sex offender, you think of an awful person,” says an emotional Slampson. “But it just isn’t me…just give people a chance before you define them.”
If everything goes as planned, Slampson will be able to cease registry in 2017, where he won’t have to confide his personal information to anyone, anymore.
John Hammann, a Baltimore criminal defense attorney for the Law Offices of P.Paul Cocoros, has been practicing law for almost 25 years. In that time, Hammann has defended countless sexual offenders and therefore can attest to the evolution of Maryland’s sex offender registry and the tightening of laws over the years.
Hammann points out, sex offenders are broken into three different categories. Depending on the degree of the crime, the registry is broken into tier-one, tier-two, and tier-three offenders. Tier -three, labels the offenders that have been convicted with the most severe sexual crimes, then, descends to tier-two, then, tier one, which are less severe crimes.
Contrary to the belief that Maryland’s sex offender registry is permanent and final, according to Hammann, that isn’t always the case. It’s possible for individuals on the registry to be removed. The judge can grant what is called probation before judgment, which is usually allotted for defendants who have a clean record or confounding circumstances. If a defendant receives probation before judgment, this means their guilty finding has been stripped. Once on probation, the defendant is eligible to request to be taken off the registry; however, whether or not to grant the request is solely based upon the judge’s discretion.
“Generally the lower series classifications are more likely to get probation before judgment,” says Hammann. “But something in a tier three, which is usually associated with something violent, those people, most likely, would not be afforded that opportunity of probation before judgment. Not that it’s precluded or prohibited, but at that same time, you would not really see that quite often.”
Robert Haines, however, as a tier-three sex offender, was able to do just that, which leads to yet another possibility of escape. Ex post facto.
“That’s a standard in criminal law,” Hammann explains, “what it stands for is, new legislation cannot punish or affect old crimes. The big dilemma now is that you have a person who may have been convicted of a crime earlier than the legislation was enacted and the legislation tries to go back and make them do something that didn’t exist when they actually committed the offense. That’s what the Latin term ex post facto means. You’re punishing someone further, for actions that occurred before this punishment would have taken place.”
Another way that Hammann has assisted with the removal of his clients from Maryland’s sex-offender registry is through expungement. An expungement is basically the removal of a crime, so that there is no record of it anywhere. Ultimately, what this means for sex offenders is removal from the registry. However, in order for an individual to be eligible for an expungement, they must first be given probation before judgment and have served a period of time on it. Generally, expungement is granted after three years spent on probation.
Sean Vincenzo takes solace in the fact that he still has his hobbies, such a paintballing, hockey and surfing. He tries to live as normal a life as one can expect given his circumstances, but admits that it can be hard sometimes.
“At the time, I did not think of the effects that this would have on my career, my life,” Vincenzo says. “Looking back on it, I just wish that I would have fought a little bit harder. I just wanted it over and done with. Now I know that basically I’ll be serving a life sentence for my actions.”
Vincenzo is pacing around his man-cave now as he rattles off what his conviction and listing on the registry has done to his life. “It’s changed my life, not for the good. For the bad,” Vincenzo says. “Before I had gone in and pled guilty I was in the process of becoming a cop, a police officer, but Baltimore County said they couldn’t employ somebody who was head-up on charges. Before I was charged, I was in the process of going overseas to play hockey.”
One of the toughest parts for Vincenzo is the stigma attached to being on the registry.
“I get a lot of dirty looks,” Vincenzo says. “People give me the evil connotation that I’ve touched little girls or mostly little boys. I had to sit in the meetings with real perverts who molested or raped four, five and six-year-olds. I feel that these people should be under constant monitoring and should have a chip put in their bodies to know where they are at all times, because they have and will abuse children. I’m not one of these people.”
Sunday Night Football on NBC is about to start so Vincenzo is ready to wrap it up. But before he does, he wants whoever is willing to listen to learn from his mistakes so they don’t end up in the same situation.
“Always think before you do anything,” Vincenzo says. “Whether it’s drinking and driving, texting and driving, or even saying one bad thing to a person, anything can have a reaction. For me, it was my greed and my want to be rich, and I exploited kids for this, but now I pay for it. Always think before you do.”