PITTSBORO — Defense attorneys argued Thursday that a new law meant to keep sex offenders away from children goes too far and violates their constitutional rights, but a Chatham County prosecutor said the law narrowly targets just the right sort of convicts.
More is at stake than the futures of registered sex offenders James Nichols and Frankie Demaio. Their lawyers are trying to strike down or change the law, under which Nichols and Demaio were charged with being within 300 feet of the nursery at Moncure Baptist Church.
Judge Allen Baddour heard nearly three hours of testimony and arguments on pretrial motions Thursday but recessed the case until Nov. 12.
Kayley Taber, the managing assistant district attorney for Chatham County, started to introduce a line of questioning Thursday to show the Chatham County Sheriff's Office wasn't trying to keep Nichols and Demaio out of church but investigating a situation with real potential victims.
In March, Nichols reported he had seen Demaio inappropriately grabbing a 12-year-old girl in the church parking lot. Pastor Matt Garrett reported that to the sheriff's office, and both sex offenders were subsequently charged for being on the church premises. In a motion earlier this month, Taber said Demaio insists he grabbed the girl's shoulders, but the girl reported he grabbed her breasts. "Demaio admitted to giving the girl a cell phone in contravention of her parent's wishes," Taber said.
As a result of the ensuing investigation, deputies also discovered other girls had slept over at the house where Nichols was staying as a boarder with Corinne Ozolins, another church member. "The mother of one child who spent the night has stated she intercepted an inappropriate sexual text message to her minor daughter from 'James,'" Taber wrote, though it is not clear it referred to Nichols.
Garrett said Nichols regularly attended worship and Bible studies, collected offerings and read aloud from the Bible. "I didn't see anything that he did that would indicate that he was not being sincere," he said.
Nichols' attorney, Glenn Gerding, argued the law violates his client's constitutional rights to religious freedom, assembly and due process. It could prevent a sex offender from passing within 300 feet of a nursery or play area, Gerding said, but it's not clear exactly where the offender can and can't be until he gets charged with a crime.
"It was not clear to me then, and it's not clear to me now whether we were in violation of the law," said Garrett. "Clearly, we want to be law-abiding citizens."
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