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Senate passes bills targeting violent offenders

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COLUMBUS — The Ohio Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill to dramatically overhaul sentencing for certain violent felonies in reaction to last year’s murder of former Monclova Township resident Reagan Tokes.

The chamber then voted 31-2 for a separate bill named for the victim of another violent murder, Sierah Joughin, 20, of Metamora. “Sierah’s Law” would create the state’s first statewide registry of violent offenders for use by law enforcement.

Both bills, sought by the victims’ families, now go to the House.

Senate Bill 201, dubbed the “Reagan Tokes Act,” focuses on sentencing reforms to keep convicted violent inmates with a history of infractions behind bars in prison longer.

“There is no reason why [Ms. Tokes’ killer] Brian Golsby should have gotten out in six years [for a prior attempted rape],” said Sen. Kevin Bacon (R., Columbus), one of the bill’s sponsors. “He had a terrible record in prison. He had all disregard or [no] respect for anyone in there or for human life.”

The bill would reintroduce indefinite sentencing to Ohio law — with maximums and minimums — for those convicted of certain felonies.

The idea is to use the threat of longer prison time, as much as 50 percent more than the minimum, to encourage inmates to behave behind bars and take advantage of opportunities to improve themselves.

The Department of Rehabilitation and Correction could, with a judge’s approval, seek earlier release than the minimum based on an inmate’s exceptional conduct or seek to delay release because of poor conduct.

Ms. Tokes, a 21-year-old Ohio State University senior, ran into Golsby on the night of Feb. 8, 2017 as she left work at a Columbus restaurant. He kidnapped, robbed, and raped her before shooting her twice in the head. He was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.

A registered sex offender, he’d been equipped upon release from prison on the prior attempted rape with an ankle GPS unit. The device tracked his movements but was not monitored in real time, so he remained free despite committing a series of robberies.

The sentencing bill was one of two inspired by the Tokes murder. The second, Senate Bill 202, is seen as a heavier lift because of its price tag. It calls for real-time GPS monitoring and alerts as well as mandated increases in parole officer staffing.

“Today, the Ohio Senate chose to turn their backs on the safety and security of our Ohio’s families by refusing to address the real threats caused by the lack of appropriate caseloads for Ohio’s parole officers and failing to fix the broken system that monitors violent offenders released from prison,” said Becky Williams, president of Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents parole officers.

Senate Bill 231, or Sierah’s Law, would require those who complete sentences for murder, voluntary manslaughter, kidnapping, abduction, or attempting or conspiring to commit such crimes to enroll annually in a violent offender registry upon release from prison for at least 10 years.

With some exceptions, the information filed with county sheriffs would be a public record available for local inspection. The statewide database would not be public record.

Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), the bill’s sponsor, wore a purple tie in Ms. Joughin’s honor. It was her favorite color.

“While I did not know Sierah personally, I have the sense now almost two years after her tragic death that I really do—through the courage and the grace exhibited by her family and especially her mother, Sheila,” he said. “I admire their example.”

Ms. Joughin disappeared on July 19, 2016 while riding her bicycle. She’d been abducted, handcuffed, and asphyxiated by James D. Worley, who’d previously served time for abduction in a Lucas County case in which his victim survived. He is expected to be sentenced to death on April 18.

He had been living in rural Delta, and Ms. Joughin’s family and local law enforcement argue they may have found Sierah sooner if they’d known of Worley’s presence in the area. 

Two Democrats opposed the bill. Sen. Mike Skindell (D., Lakewood) raised concerns that the bill casts too wide a net by including those convicted of conspiracy, even when they did not directly commit the crimes.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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