Sex Offender Allowed to Live Across From School

Jessica's Law loophole creating outrage in peaceful Piedmont

By Jessica Greene
|  Monday, Mar 8, 2010  |  Updated 11:01 AM PDT
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Sex Offender Allowed to Live Across From School

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James Donnelly, 71, moved into a house across the street from Wildwood Elementary School in Piedmont in February after serving 32 months in federal prison for possessing child pornography.

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A loophole is being blamed for allowing a convicted sex offender to live across the street from an elementary school in the East Bay.

James Donnelly, 71, moved into a house across the street from Wildwood Elementary School in affluent Piedmont in February after serving 32 months in federal prison for possessing child pornography. Wildwood Elementary School is across the street from the house and as a convicted sex offender under California law, Donnelly is prohibited from living within a certain distance from it.

Donnelly was arrested in 2005 and was convicted on federal charges of child pornography. Jessica's Law, which voters overwhelmingly passed as Proposition 83 in 2006, prohibits convicted sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet from schools, churches or other places where chidren gather. The problem? It doesn't state a punishment for those who violate that part of the law.

Shortly after Donnelly filed residential registration, Piedmont Police Chief John Hunt discovered the rule did not apply to Donnelly's case because he was convicted under federal law, so there is no legal way to force Donnelly out.

Neighbors are outraged over the issue.They say dozens of students walk to school and pass by the house several times a day. The principal of Wildwood Elementary has sent letters home to parents. Piedmont resident Thomas Hawk wrote about the issue on his blog and published a letter police sent to residents.

California also has another law aimed at keeping track of convicted sex offenders. Megan's Law, signed into legislation in 2004, tracks the addresses of the state's 63,000 registered sex offenders. The names and addresses are available on a public database. Donnelly's name is not on the Megan's Law database because his conviction was for federal charges.

Police have talked to Donnelly and say he had indicated he may relocate in a few months.

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