New state law closes loophole sex offender law - Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

New state law closes loophole sex offender law

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(WMC-TV) - State officials took action after an Action News 5 investigation exposed a disturbing loophole in Tennessee's sex offender laws.

The case centered around a Tipton County man convicted of sex crimes against children who kept contacting those children from jail.

"Happy birthday, I hope you have a wonderful day and following year," read Donna Turner of the Tipton County Sheriff's Department during a recent interview. "I cannot believe my little tot-tot is already a teenager. You might be tired of me writing this but I can't get over how fast you are growing up."

Turner's spoken words were actually written words from a sex offender, to his young victims - written in multiple birthday and Christmas cards sent from jail!

"I cannot believe my little tot-tot is already a teenager," Turner continued as she read.

Terry Bernard McConnell is the convict who sent the cards, convicted of rape of a child and aggravated sexual battery involving two female victims.

When the Action News 5 Investigators first reported on McConnell, he was not a registered sex offender despite his convictions. That's because a loophole in state law only required sex offenders to register when they got out of prison, leaving the door open for sex offenders to contact their victims while in jail.

That can't happen anymore.

"In government, it's our role to protect those who can't protect themselves and in this case, we have an example of where we're closing a loophole and helping the victim," Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said.

A new law passed by state legislators, and signed by Governor Bill Haslam Tuesday, requires all convicted sex offenders in Tennessee prisons to register as sex offenders once they're convicted.

"It's democracy at its best when a local official or citizen notices the problem and notifies their representation either through elected officials or the media," said Tennessee House Majority Whip Barrett Rich.

Thanks to the new law, over 2,100 sex offenders currently in Tennessee prisons will now be forced to register on the state's sex offender registry.  That means sex offenders who are already behind bars can not have any contact with their victims without further punishment.

"It's all about working for the victim and what's right for the victim. That's our job and that's what we've pledged to do and its good to know that we stepped forward as a voice for our victims," Turner said.

The new sex offender law passed unanimously in the state house and senate, and state lawmakers thanked Action News 5's Justin Hanson for exposing the loophole.

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