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Published on Nov 26, 2008
Wendy Whitaker, the Harlem, Ga., housewife who was the subject of a 2006 CL cover story about Georgia's then-new — and constitutionally shaky — sex offender law, has been arrested for failing to register a new address.
Whitaker is the lead plaintiff in a three-year-old lawsuit challenging the law by the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights.
In 1997, when she was 17, Whitaker was convicted under Georgia's antiquated sodomy law — overturned the next year by the U.S. Supreme Court — for performing oral sex on a 15-year-old classmate. She was sentenced to five years probation and has had to register annually as a sex offender ever since.
At the time the suit was filed, Whitaker had been forced to move from her new house because it was too close to a church day-care. The law's residency requirement prohibits registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, playground or other place where children congregate.
Since then, several provisions of the law have been struck down or enjoined, including measures that criminalized homelessness among sex offenders; forced sex offenders to leave homes they'd bought before the law was passed; and prohibited sex offenders from volunteering at church. The bulk of the draconian law — authored by state Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons — remains in force as the lawsuit languishes in federal court.
In Whitaker's case, because it was her husband's name, not hers, on their home mortgage, she was allowed to return to her house — after living with relatives in a rural trailer park — only due to a temporary court injunction.
But this past Monday, police in Columbia County arrested Whitaker at her mother's house, charging her with failing to register a new address. If convicted, she faces a 10- to 30-year prison sentence under Georgia law. Last year, a bill to reduce the penalty for failure to register passed the state Senate, but Keen was able to kill it in the House.
At this writing, Whitaker remains in jail, unable to make her $10,000 bail.