Law closes loopholes once allowing sex offenders to stay off the registry

(WMC-TV) – A new law closes the loophole that for years allowed sex offenders to stay off of the state sex offender registry.

The new law could expose even more sex offenders in the state of Tennessee than ever before. The state lawmaker behind the law is putting criminals on notice.

The latest instance of the loophole came with former Houston County High School football coach Eric Reames.

He was first charged with statutory rape by an authority figure. If found guilty of the crime, he would have automatically appeared on the sex offender registry.

Last month, Reames accepted a plea deal and the charge was lessened to statutory rape, which means, he will never appear on the registry.

But the governor signed a bill Tuesday that will put criminals on notice, even if they plead down the charge.

"So the message is, 'We're not going to tolerate that anymore. And we're going to give every child in Tennessee a shot at justice,'" said Representative Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville.

The law follows an investigation done by our sister station, which found case after case of men pleading down to statutory rape to avoid the registry.

One of those men is Lamont Hurt, who was initially charged with the rape of a 9-year-old girl. He pleaded down to statutory rape and is not listed on the registry.

Rep. Maggart had heard of such instances, but did not know how widespread the problem was until she saw the news story.

The law now gives judges the discretion on whether or not the offender is listed on the registry.

"We're going to make sure that if you've done something that you shouldn't have done to a kid, you're going to be held accountable," said Rep. Maggart.

Copyright 2012 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.