MINNEAPOLIS - Governor Mark Dayton says Minnesota needs to change the way it sentences some sex offenders.
"I think it's wrong," Dayton said Tuesday, responding to a KARE 11 Investigation that exposed a little known legal loophole allowing hundreds of child sexual predators in Minnesota to have their crimes masked by the legal system.
"I don't think they should be, and I was shocked to see the report," Dayton said. "And I'm working with legislators who share that concern to tighten up Minnesota's procedures to prevent judges and county attorneys from exercising their lawful discretion in ways that clearly violate the public interest."
Records obtained by KARE 11 reveal that admitted child molesters, rapists, and people who've been caught with child pornography are not on Minnesota's sex offender registry or the state's public online courts database.
Despite admitting their guilt, Minnesota judges and prosecutors have granted some sex offenders a special status that makes their past largely secret. Sometimes with tragic consequences.
"When things like this are just wiped under the rug it's terrible," cried the mother of an 11-year-old Ramsey County girl who was molested by Eugene Robert Finch.
Finch, 47, is an example of a child predator who took advantage of the secret system.
Back in 2014, Finch was busted after repeatedly having sex with a 13-year-old girl. He was charged with Third Degree Criminal Sexual Conduct. If convicted, he was facing three years in prison and placement on Minnesota's sex offender registry.
Instead, he received a lenient plea deal called a "Stay of Adjudication" that shielded his crime from the public.
Here is how the Stay of Adjudication worked: Finch entered a guilty plea in court, but as part of the plea deal the judge did not immediately accept it.
Instead of prison, Finch was placed on probation and ordered to participate in a sex offender treatment program.
If Finch successfully completed his probation, the judge agreed that the charges against him would be dismissed. So, there would be no conviction on his record.
To further shield Finch while on probation, no information about the child sex charge could be found on the state's online criminal court database. In Minnesota, the online database doesn't allow the public to search the names of people charged with a crime unless they already have been convicted.
So, unless someone physically went to a courthouse to search, the public had no real way of knowing that the man living across the street from a playground and babysitting children was a threat.
"We didn't know, we had no idea," said the mother of the Ramsey County victim.
"The public deserves a right to know," Governor Dayton told KARE 11. The governor explained he believes in second chances, and giving even sex offenders a chance to become law abiding, responsible citizens. However, he said that doesn't mean their crimes should be shielded from the public.
"Innocent people need to know that there are people around them who have a history of sexual abuse, and we need to protect the public first and foremost," said Dayton.
The Governor told KARE 11 that Minnesota needs to tighten the parameters for when Stays of Adjudication can be used, to, in his words, "prevent judges and county attorneys from exercising their lawful discretion in ways that clearly violate the public interest."
In the wake of KARE 11's investigation, both the DFL Governor and Republican lawmakers have confirmed new legislation is being drafted to address the issue.