Giovanni Rossi had already served a lengthy prison sentence for rape when, police say, he posted a fake apartment listing on Craigslist earlier this month, luring a woman to his Swampscott apartment, where he beat and sexually assaulted her.
The victim of Rossi's alleged May 3 attack should have been able to learn of his criminal past before meeting him. And his neighbors in Swampscott deserved to know a sexual predator was living nearby. However, thanks to a highly questionable ruling two years ago by the Supreme Judicial Court, no one outside of the police officers who dealt with him knew of his background.
Rossi's is not the only case. Hundreds of sex offenders are currently living anonymously in Massachusetts cities and towns, and residents are none the wiser. This has to change.
For decades, communities knew offenders like Rossi were in their midst because of the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry. The registry lists where offenders live and sorts them into three categories according to the seriousness of their offenses. The names of Level 1 offenders are not shared with the public. The names of those with Level 2 and Level 3 status -- convicted of more serious crimes or deemed at higher risk to re-offend -- are publicized through local police departments and on the registry's website.
In 2015, however, the Supreme Judicial Court changed the legal standard by which the registry board could determine whether someone is likely to re-offend, moving it from a "preponderance" of evidence to a more strict "clear and convincing" evidence. In short, the ruling made it more difficult to classify serious offenders.
The registry board makes the impact of the ruling clear on its website:
"Hundreds of sex offenders who have cases pending before the Massachusetts Appeals Court, the Superior Court, or (the board itself), will receive a new hearing applying the higher standard. These offenders will be returned to an unclassified status, and their registry information will not be available on this website or disseminated to the public by local police departments."
Making things worse, the Supreme Judicial Court backdated its ruling, saying it applied to already classified offenders.
Authorities say it could be years before all the reclassification hearings are held. In the meantime, newly convicted offenders aren't being classified. In effect, it's as if hundreds of sex crimes never occurred.
That's what happened with Rossi, who was appealing his designation as a Level 3 sex offender at the time of the May 3 assault.
The facts surrounding his conviction in 2002 for rape and kidnapping are not in dispute. In that case, a woman who had offered to take an intoxicated friend home after a party then accepted a ride back to her own car from Rossi, who hosted the party. During the ride back, Rossi grabbed the woman's hair and tried several times to force her to commit a sex act, telling her he would kill her and dump her body in the Mystic River if she didn't comply. Thankfully, the woman escaped, and Rossi was sentenced to seven to 10 years in prison. He was released in 2013 on five years' probation.
Because Rossi is appealing his sex offender classification, his name appears nowhere on the registry website, despite the seriousness of the crimes for which he was convicted.
Rossi, who has an eight-page criminal record, will remain behind bars at least until a June 27 probation violation hearing. Ironically, a hearing on Rossi's sex offender classification is scheduled for June 8.
We agree that offenders should be allowed to appeal their classification. Such a process ensures fairness and provides a check on human error. But the names of offenders should not be hidden from the public during the appeal process. These are not cases where a judge or jury is trying to determine guilt. Those on the sex offender registry have already been convicted of crimes -- a special category of crimes the public has made clear it wants to know about.
There's no way to say for sure whether the May 3 assault could have been averted if the public knew about Giovanni Rossi's sex offender status. But it is clear the public had the right to know he was living in their community.