Too close for comfort

A Target Five investigation found dozens of convicted sex offenders living in parts of Shelby County, where we expect our children to be safe. Some are just a few feet from day care centers and schools. It's a relatively new Tennessee state law that sets a limit how close sex offenders can live to child care centers. The law says 1000 feet. But our investigation found a loophole, allowing dozens of sex offenders, even those convicted of crimes against children, to live a lot closer than that.

Kids spend a lot of time looking up to their Uncle Cedric. And Cedric Kearney sees "coaching" nearly a dozen nieces and nephews as his job and his penance. Cedric Kearney, convicted sex offender said, "What can you do? You can say, 'I'm sorry,' but how far does 'I'm sorry' go?"

Five years ago Kearney was indicted for "Rape of a Child" after allegedly having sex with his ex-girlfriend's 12-year-old daughter. He pleaded guilty to "Criminal Attempted Rape of a Child" and spent four years in prison. Last summer, the Tennessee state legislature passed a law saying sex offenders, like Kearney, can't "establish a residence" within 1000 feet of a day care center or a school. But the law has a big loophole. Cedric Kearney's house is only 500 feet away from a Church that houses a day care center. The only thing separating the two is an overpass." And it's perfectly legal.

Based on a written opinion last March, the State Attorney General's Office feels a sex offender only breaks the law if he establishes a new residence within 1000 feet of a day care center or a school. Which means, sex offenders can move back home after getting out of prison, no matter how close it is to buildings full of children, like the one Kearney can see from his front porch. Rev. Lillie Swindle, day care owner said, "I think it should apply to him, I think the community should be warned of people like this so we can protect our children. And if we aren't warned, our kids aren't protected."

Using a database to match the addresses of registered sex offenders with those of Tennessee's licensed child care centers, our Target Five investigation found 139 Shelby County centers with registered sex offenders living less than 1000 feet away. Darnell Ivy was indicted for "Rape of a Child" in 1998. He got probation for a lesser charge and eventually moved back home, 850 feet or less from four child care facilities, including Sheffield Elementary School on Chuck Road in Memphis. We broke the news to a few parents. Parent Vanessa Jones said, "Way too close, entirely too close." We wanted to see what Ivy thought. We left Ivy a message with his mother, but got no response. Parent Enna Weatherall said, "To know that he's living just right around the corner, you know, it's upsetting." But, the Tennessee State Parole Board told us parents and neighbors shouldn't worry since Ivy is under strict supervision with weekly check-ins to a probation officer and at least two surprise visits a week to his home. Helen Ford, TN Bd. of Probation & Parole said, "We know what he's doing. We know where he is. We know when he's at work, when he's not at work. We know that he's in treatment. We do drug tests on him, we know what's going on in his life. Whatever. We're on top of that." But no one has to stay on top of ex-cons like Cedric Kearney, who served his time, was released, and now lives just 500 feet from a day care center, thanks to a legal loophole.

Right now, a bill is making it's way through the legislature, which could close the loophole by changing the way the law is worded. It would bar sex offenders from living within 1000 feet of a child care center, period. If it passes, it wouldn't go in effect until January First of 2005.