Neighbors unaware suspect was sex offender

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Friday, January 19, 2007

James Koepp was a welcome guest in many of his neighbors' homes.

One described him as a devoted family man. Last month, he fixed a window on the mobile home of his neighbor Danyetta Lentz.

But would neighbors have been as trusting if they'd known Koepp was a registered sex offender with a sexually violent history?

Koepp, a resident of Janesville Terrace mobile home park, 3315 S. Highway 51, is in custody and is expected to be charged today with the murder of Lentz, 38, and her two children, Nicole and Scott Lentz, ages 17 and 14.

Koepp was convicted in 1983 on four counts of sexual assault and sentenced to 10 years in prison and 10 years probation after threatening two women with a knife and forcing them to perform sexual acts in Monona in 1982.

Wednesday, Janesville resident Russ Lucht, who found the bodies of his daughter and grandchildren in their bloody home Jan. 12, expressed frustration to The Janesville Gazette that people didn't know about Koepp.

"Nobody even knew he was a sex offender out there," Lucht said. "People probably would have been a lot more cautious. That's the only thing that's making us upset now."

Koepp was discharged from Wisconsin Department of Corrections supervision in July 2001 after being in and out of prison on the sexual assault and an unrelated burglary conviction. Because of his sexual assault convictions, he was required to register as a sex offender with the state, which keeps a registry accessible to the public.

If he had committed the sexual assaults today, broader criteria under Wisconsin's so-called Sexual Predator Law may have kept Koepp under Department of Corrections supervision for the rest of his life, Koepp's former parole agent Devan Dutra said.

Wisconsin Statute 980, the so-called Sexual Predator Law, went into effect in 1994. It allows the Department of Corrections to evaluate criminals incarcerated for certain sexually violent offenses before they are released from prison to determine if they are likely to commit more sexually violent offenses.

In 2004, the wording of state statutes broadened, making it easier for prosecutors to argue that sexual offenders may repeat their crimes.

A board evaluates those who are identified as concerns. Once their sentences are up, a court may commit them to a prison-like treatment center.

Koepp was screened in 1998 for possible civil commitment under the law, but he did not meet the criteria at that time.

Today, when serious sexual offenders are released from prison or treatment centers, the Department of Corrections can notify local law officials, who determine whether to notify other law enforcement agencies, local media or neighborhoods, said Dave Moore, Janesville police deputy chief.

Koepp is listed as "compliant" on the Wisconsin Sex Offender Registry, which is maintained by the Department of Corrections and can be accessed through the agency's Web site. The site lists the names and addresses of those who have committed registerable sexual offenses on or after December 1993 and, like Koepp, updated changes of address with the registry.

Self-education is the key to being aware of sexual offenders in your neighborhood, Moore said. People must take the initiative to log on and search their neighborhoods to find sexual offenders. And while the sex offender Web site has improved to allow users to search by name as well as zip code, it leaves much to be desired, Moore said.

"It's not very user-friendly," Moore said. "The Janesville Police Department has had several conversations with the Department of Corrections, urging them to make a map-based system."

As recently as two months ago, Moore said he has asked state officials to develop a system similar to the one in Florida, which allows users to enter their addresses and view maps of the residences of compliant, registered sex offenders near their homes.

Private organizations have created more user-friendly sites, Moore said, but he cautioned that other sites might not be as accurate.

John Dipko, Department of Corrections public information director, said computer programmers are developing an improved system. A map-based program is in the works, he said, as well as an automatic e-mail system that could notify residents of changes in their neighborhood. The Department of Corrections does not yet have a target date for completing the upgrade, Dipko said.

"We do encourage the public to check the Web site regularly," Dipko said. "There are more than 19,000 registered offenders on the registry.

"Wisconsin has one of the broadest array of offenses that will land someone on the registry," Dipko said.

People without Internet access may contact the Department of Corrections at (608) 240-5830. The department will help with searches and can provide brochures and other educational material.

Dutra said the public should not be frightened by the sexual offender registry.

"I bet if we count all those (thousands of names) up, it maybe scares people," Dutra said. "But I bet the actual number of reoffenses are very low. Just being in the registry is not a predictor of re-offense."

Last updated: 8:19 am Monday, December 17, 2012

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