JEFFERSON CITY, MO — Miniature hockey skates slide
across the ice, scarring the surface.
boy jerks his hips back and forth, his eyes trained on his dad who is
skating backward smoothly. Six-year-old Julian does his best to imitate the
falls on his butt. His oversized helmet nods like a bobblehead.
Sean Ryno, waits near the edge of the rink, watching Julian clamber back to his
giggling and worn out, Julian lets Ryno help peel off the gear. The boy's row
of blond cowlicks, a feature he shares with his dad, springs free as he yanks
off the helmet. His little face is bright red. The pads are encrusted with ice.
The red hockey stick rivals his height.
pads are off, Ryno, 29, scoops up his son and swings him around. Julian's
rolling giggles resonate from his gut.
to Gramps for a bit, OK?" Ryno says.
waits a beat. Then —
you imagine losing that?" His voice drops, breaks.
Added to registry
Friday, Ryno's wife, Cassandra, was granted custody of their son. The two
agreed on the stipulations prior to their divorce hearing. Ryno didn't fight
for custody because he knew he would lose. Sean Ryno is a registered sex
Ryno pleaded guilty to deviate sexual assault, which is defined as deviate
sexual intercourse without that person's consent.
contends the incidents were nonviolent but manipulative. The girl was 14
years old. The case involved three instances: two when he was 16 and one when
he was 17. They involved oral sex and undressing.
result of his guilty plea, Sean Ryno was added to the Missouri Sex Offender
In Missouri, Statute
452.400 prohibits a registered sex offender from being granted custody in the
case of a divorce if the offender pleads guilty to any of a litany of offenses,
including deviate sexual assault.
tried for years to be removed from the registry.
Hinson, R-St. Clair, has sponsored a bill for the past three years that would
allow more sex offenders such as Ryno to petition off the registry. Introducing
House Bill 1561 to the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee this
session, Hinson said it's time for the legislature to give those who were
juveniles at the time of their offenses a better chance of getting off the
dad, Michael Ryno, had temporary custody of Julian while the boy's mom served
overseas in the Navy. She was transferred to Bartlett, Tenn.,
in early April, where she will take Julian.
was granted visitation the third weekend of every month. His visits must be
supervised, according to Missouri
law. He will be responsible for all travel expenses, which he fears will keep
him from seeing his son as much as he would like. Bartlett
is about 350 miles from Jefferson City.
He also will pay $330 a month in child support.
wife filed for divorce in April 2013, stating that the marriage was
irretrievably broken. Ryno said it was hard keeping up with her service in the
Navy. The military requires movement, and for someone on the registry,
moving can be a nightmare. Every state and city is different in regard to sex
offenders. Finding housing isn't easy when looking to rent. In Ryno's
experience, many landlords don't want to lease to someone registered as a sex
offender. It's even harder to keep a job.
ruminates on the nine years spent with his wife, constantly gridlocked by
the complications that come with the registry.
people in my life, they understand and have so much sympathy that they get on
board completely until they realize how actually (hopeless) it is," Ryno
said. "They make the decision that they don't actually need to carry this
burden. They really can walk away, and they do. It's difficult to fault them
he believes that had he not been on the registry, he would still be married, serving
his country and never having to worry about losing his son.
divorce proceedings began last May, Ryno was a stay-at-home dad. He went from
taking care of Julian full time to only seeing his son while supervised. Every
Monday, Ryno drives from Columbia to Jefferson City to skate
with his son during hockey lessons.
some ways, it's good that he's living with my father," Ryno admitted
earlier this spring. "My father has far more resources. I need to find a
and holding down a job as a registered sex offender can be hard. Although
it isn't a part of his criminal history, the registry is included in background
checks. Multiple times, Ryno has landed a job and worked a few weeks as a
probationary employee pending the background check. But once that information
comes back, a lot of times he's been let go.
a dozen times, I have had to sit there, look at an employer across the table
and remove that (stereotype)," he said. It comes with the label "sex
employers send a letter: "We are sorry to inform you that your application
has been denied." Short, sweet and no reason necessary.
times, employers want to sit down to extract the details. But Ryno isn't
comfortable sharing that information. When asked the specifics of the
crime, he says that it wasn't violent, that it was consensual. But he
won't share the details.
respect for your victim, you don't release any identifying information
regarding the victim at all," he said, stressing his words.
This is a
notion he said is ingrained in those sex offender patients who go through years
of the Missouri Sex Offender Program, known as MoSOP.
Rehabilitation for sex offenders
pleaded guilty, Ryno was put on Suspended Imposition of Sentence probation,
meaning that as long as he pleaded guilty to his offense and completed the
probation requirements, then his conviction wouldn't show up on his criminal
record. One requirement was to complete MoSOP. He spent the next five years
attending the weekly outpatient sessions. He was successfully discharged in
of the sex offender program is mandatory for an offender's release prior
to the sentence completion. The Department of Corrections website states that
the program consists of about 12 months of therapy, but Ryno said he'd
never heard of anyone in prison completing it in less than two years, and
for those in the outpatient program, it's a few years more. The FarmingtonCorrectionalCenter for men and
the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and CorrectionalCenter
in Vandalia for women both provide the program.
doesn't paint a pretty picture of the rehabilitation program. It's rough. It's
scary. It's no "Breakfast Club." There is no camaraderie. Your
thoughts, motivations, secrets, the good, the bad — these no longer belong only
in the first time is like a minnow being dropped into a tank of sharks, a Boy
Scout stepping into the Marines," Ryno said, shaking his head, envisioning
that 17-year-old boy who first stepped into the room. "They are not nice.
Most people don't make it."
consist of three to 12 people. Ryno was part of an outpatient group. If the
counselor determines that someone isn't participating, that person receives
probation violation and likely is sent to prison. Ryno watched several
participants choose prison over the program.
have to spill your guts across the highway," Ryno said. "You no
longer have a stitch of privacy in your life, and that reality is difficult to
succumb to. It's oppressive. But I knew that if I went to prison, I'd probably
never get out."
patients generally do the talking while the counselor guides the discussion.
Ryno's examples of the discussions are uncomfortable, at the least.
ask you, 'How often do you masturbate? Where do you masturbate? What do you
fantasize to? Blonde?
The torso? Does the look on the face mean anything to you?' They comb
through details and find fallacies in your logic. It's very intrusive. It
builds a fear. You approach problems in life from a more analytical, critical
new member comes to the group, they work through the case report detail by
graphic detail, grinding through like rusty gears.
reports are tough to do, especially if the person is very, very
remorseful," Ryno said. "It's hard to talk, but you have to. They
don’t care about your feelings."
there are assignments. One is to write a letter to the victim. These are never
sent. Then the participants write a letter from the victim's point of view to
try and understand the other perspective. It is meant to explore empathy and
sympathy in the patients.
he believes that he is a better person because of the program. He points to its
low recidivism rates that he feels validates his trust in the process.
Missouri requires offenders convicted of sexual assault to complete the Missouri Sex Offender
Program before they can be considered for probation or parole. Data from 2004
through 2013 show a higher percentage of sex offenders who failed or refused
the program had new convictions after their release compared to offenders who
completed the program.
learned that despite one's feelings, emotions or intentions, hurting someone
for the sake of hurting them is always wrong.
doesn't matter how fluent I become with the jargon and the language associated
with the challenges that I have to face," he said, looking down at his
hands, frustrated. "The general perception that people are most likely to
have regarding sex offenders is a tough mountain to climb."
Petitioning for removal
wanted nothing more than to join the Navy like his father, who spent 16 years
with the military. In 2008, after completing the rehabilitation program, Ryno
applied. He was physically fit. His aptitude assessment scores were more than
sufficient. But the Navy wouldn't take him. The background check includes the
sex offender registry, and inclusion on the list automatically disqualifies a
loathes the Missouri Sex Offender Registry. He's worked for years to be
removed. But it's a hard process with little return.
Sean Ryno met then-Rep. Bill Deeken in Jefferson
City. The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act
was moving through the legislature. Ryno suggested an amendment for the bill
that allowed offenders to petition to be removed from the registry if no
physical force or threat of physical force was involved in the crime.
petitioned for removal from the registry in 2008. No luck.
again in 2010, this time with letters from his Missouri Sex Offender Program
counselor, an employer and his wife. It was dismissed.
once more in 2012 with a video testimony from his victim, testifying that there
was no threat. Dismissed.
hearing of the House committee, Rep. Mike Colona of St. Louis, said there is a fear that many
judges won't allow offenders off the registry simply because it is
difficult to justify to the public, advocacy groups and victims and their
families when they seek re-election.
you were a judge with unlimited discretion, why would you let someone off the
list?" Ryno asked.
beginning, Ryno held his hope close, believing that his doggedness would get
him off the list soon. The years have changed his outlook.
days, he says, "Now what? What can I work toward? What do I have to do in
order to be happy 30 years from now?"
he's focused on legislation that will give him a chance to get off the list.
His motivation is the drive to keep the relationship he has with his son.
obviously loves his dad, and his dad loves him," Michael Ryno, Sean's
father, said. "It's a hindered relationship, though. It's not a normal
father-son relationship because of the situation, because of the law."
is worried about what his son is going to think of him. It eats at him that he
might not be as big of a part of Julian's life, that his son will slowly become
alienated from him.
just glad it's not happening when he's 9, 10, 14 years old. I don't know what
I'm going to do then," Ryno said. "One day, he will understand, but
there's going to be periods of time where he's going to not be sure that his
father's a good man. And that's what I'm dedicating my life to."
has argued for years that the Missouri Sex Offender Registry is a waste of
time and taxpayer money. He contends that the list eats up law enforcement's
time when problems arise. He advocates that Missouri look to rehabilitation programs
such as the Missouri Sex Offender Program and perhaps set up a system where
judges could refer to risk assessments of petitioning offenders. He
thinks these measures are more likely to keep Missouri residents safe than the list.
House Bill 1561
1561 would allow any offender who was 17 or younger at the time of
the offense to petition for removal. According to data from the Missouri
Department of Corrections depository, as of May 4, there are about
17,340 registered offenders. About 2,360 of them are incarcerated.
one of 20 offenders in BooneCounty who would be
eligible to petition off the registry under these new parameters. In ColeCounty,
10 registered offenders would be eligible. Across Missouri, there are about 730 sex
offenders who would be able to petition.
substitute to the bill would allow any sex offender who was under 17 years at
the time of the offense, and no more than five years older than the
victim, to petition for removal after five years as long as the
victim has reached 18 years old. This restriction would apply to
about 400 offenders as long as they wait the allotted time.
would also allow juveniles to be removed from the website.
parameters are only for offenders whose offense was in Missouri; those who moved from another state
must follow those states' guidelines. These numbers include all offenses;
however, the substitute could decrease these statistics by allowing only those
whose offenses involved no physical force.
rework the sex offender registry have been making ripples in the House the past
few years. Former Rep. Rodney Schad carried this bill while Hinson was a
to me and said, 'Hey, you seem to be level-headed, and this is a good cause. We
need to give these kids a second chance,'" Hinson said. "I picked it
up from there."
year's version of the bill made it through the legislature only to be vetoed by
Gov. Jay Nixon because it completely nixed judicial discretion when it came to
bill still strives to address the fear that outside political and social
pressures influence judges' decisions in these situations.
would add the stipulation that offenders complete all court-ordered treatment
in order to petition to be removed. The treatment could mean a risk
assessment that a judge could use to make a decision. The offender would have
to foot the cost.
would allow only those offenses that involved no physical force to be
considered. Hinson also changed the age gap from six to five years, after
several groups at the public hearing expressed consternation at the
talked to the victims' advocacy group, and they understand the situation,"
Hinson said. "I've tried to compromise the best I could on this bill to
make it legitimately able for them to petition to get off (the registry)."
went to work with senators, the governor's office, the victims' advocacy groups
and prosecutors on the new bill.
will tell you that not everyone likes it, not everyone hates it," he
prefaced in the hearing. "So it could be a fairly decent bill."
Dialogue on the bill
opponents of the bill fear its proposed five-year gap would put Missouri out of
compliance with the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, the federal
standards for registration. Noncompliance could risk losing grant funding.
Byrd, the registry supervisor at the Missouri State Highway Patrol, said
the national sex offender registration act states that the age difference
between offender and victim should be no more than four years.
that passed, it could be a bad mark against us at the federal level and could
throw us out of compliance," Byrd said.
Schenkhof, the deputy director of Missouri KidsFirst, said there were two
major problems in the bill: pushing past the four-year age difference and
removing all juveniles from the website.
you get outside of that four-year age gap, people are at different
developmental levels, and there's a pretty big power differential," she
worries there won't be public accountability for those juveniles. She says the
registry and the website let offenders know that their communities know what
they did and they are watching.
general, we don't put juveniles on the adult register," she said. "In
order to get on the registry as a juvenile, you have to have committed a very
serious sex offense. This is messy, dirty business."
however, point out that juveniles have much lower recidivism rates than adults.
17-year-old has a much greater chance of being rehabilitated, and they have a
greater chance of not repeating that offense," she said.
Missouri State Bar Executive Committee reviewed the bill in March and voted in
support of it; however, the committee does not support including forcible
crimes among those that would be removed.
Rogers, a member of the Criminal Law Legislative Review Subcommittee, was
quoted in a memo: "This bill would alleviate in part some of the most
unfair aspects of sex offender registration."
legislative session drawing to a close, neither the bill nor its substitute has
made it to a House calendar. Hinson said he hopes to look into some Senate
bills to bring the issue back, if it doesn't move forward this session.
accepted that he will be, at least for the time being, one more name included
on the Missouri Sex Offender Registry.
has a job, 40 hours a week as a telemarketer. He has passed the probationary
period and said the company is allowing him to stay on despite his name being
on the registry. He plans to continue to advocate for programs such as the
Missouri Sex Offender Program and can see himself lobbying for legislation that
he feels would help rehabilitate offenders.
be labeled a sex offender forever, that's ostracizing people from
society," Ryno said. "You're telling a lie to all of society that
these people cannot be helped, that rehabilitation doesn't work and that
you shouldn't have hope for people who make mistakes."