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Donegal sex offender fights lifetime registration

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Thursday, July 3, 2014, 10:24 p.m.
 

A Donegal man convicted of assaulting a 14-year-old girl on a walking trail is challenging the constitutionality of lifetime registration with police ordered for certain sex offenders.

Jeffrey Ritenour's contention that he should not be required to register for life because it exceeds the maximum prison sentence for his offense is one of several such appeals filed through the Fayette County Public Defender's Office.

A Fayette County jury in January convicted Ritenour, 53, of statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, corruption of minors and simple assault.

At trial, the teen testified Ritenour forced her to have sex as the two walked on the trail in May 2012. The Tribune-Review does not identify victims of sexual assault.

President Judge John F. Wagner Jr. in April sentenced Ritenour to three to 10 years in state prison and ordered him, under the Adam Walsh Act, to register with state police as a sex offender for the rest of Ritenour's life.

Wagner denied a post-sentence motion seeking to modify the registration requirement.

In an appeal brief filed on Wednesday in Superior Court, Ritenour's public defender, Michael Garofalo, argues lifetime registration is unconstitutional in Ritenour's case because it exceeds the maximum prison sentence for the crimes.

“That registration requirement is totally beyond the statutory maximum sentence for statutory sexual assault,” Garofalo wrote in the appeal. “Appellant believes that to require such a registration period constitutes an unusual punishment, as barred by the Pennsylvania and U.S. constitutions.”

In addition, Garofalo argues in the appeal that prosecutors failed to prove the girl was assaulted. Although the girl testified Ritenour forced her to have sex, Garofalo argues prosecutors failed to present any evidence indicating whether the girl resisted, fought Ritenour or went to a doctor for a physical exam.

Garofalo wants a judge to grant a new trial or to stay Ritenour's sentence.

Ritenour's appeal is one of several in which Fayette public defenders have challenged the lifetime registration requirement.

In May, Judge Nancy Vernon denied a motion by attorney Jeremy Davis to modify the lifetime registration imposed on Ronald Burwell III, 28, of Smithfield.

Burwell pleaded guilty to statutory sexual assault, indecent assault, aggravated indecent assault and corruption of minors for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. Vernon sentenced him to 3 12 to 7 years in prison and imposed the lifetime registration requirement.

Davis argued unsuccessfully that lifetime registration is unconstitutional in Burwell's case because it exceeds his maximum sentence. The case has been appealed to state Superior Court.

In two other cases, public defenders filed motions this week in Fayette County Common Pleas Court challenging lifetime registration requirements imposed on Donald H. Hagner IV, 40, of Smithfield, and Shaun Douglas Fitzgerald, 20, of Uniontown.

Hagner pleaded guilty in April to aggravated indecent assault and corruption of minors for assaulting a 12-year-old girl in 2009 at a Point Marion residence. Senior Judge Gerald R. Solomon on June 27 sentenced Hagner to 3 34 to 7 12 years in state prison and ordered him to register quarterly with state police as a sex offender for life.

Fitzgerald pleaded guilty to rape of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, statutory sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault. Uniontown Police said Fitzgerald sexually assaulted an 11-year-old boy in May 2012 under an overpass on East Main Street.

Solomon on Tuesday sentenced Fitzgerald to six to 20 years in state prison and imposed the lifetime registration requirement.

Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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