Myspace Dangers: Cops Round Up Online Sex Offenders - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

11/29/06-Henderson

Myspace Dangers: Cops Round Up Online Sex Offenders

Just who is chatting with your son or daughter on Myspace.com?  A KLTV investigation found more than a dozen local sex offenders on the wildly popular "Place for Friends", as Myspace is called.

It's not illegal for most sex offenders to be on Myspace, but it is for several men in Rusk County. Just as we were looking more closely at who's on Myspace, so was law enforcement. 

Of the 130 million on Myspace, thousands in East Texas, there were 12.  Sex offenders in cities and towns.  All were apparently active on Myspace where there are no hard-and-fast rules, no boundaries, and no police.

"I really didn't know much about Myspace.com. I heard a little bit in the news," says Jon Johnston, who has been a probation officer in Rusk County for three decades.  Offenders given a second chance check in with him, and there are rules for each of them.

"The last couple [of rules] are about using the email and the Internet."

Cornelius Simon was one of the twelve we found in our investigation.  Kevin Stephenson was another.  Both are registered sex offenders.  Both are convicted of an aggravated sexual assault.  The victims were 13 and 14 year old girls.

Johnston says both men are supposed to be nowhere near Myspace or the Internet at all.

"I actually set up an account to go in and view some pictures, and see who they were talking to. And we got some good information that it was some young, underage, females they were talking to -- the same thing that got them into trouble to begin with," he says.

He says the pictures on Myspace, match their mugshots.

"So there's no mistake about who they were," he says.

Johnston says that's all he needed to move to revoke probation. 

Rusk County Sheriff Glen Deason and his deputies were armed with a judge's order for the first arrest of its kind in Rusk County.  Officers found 19-year-old Kevin Stephenson at his Henderson home.  His apparent online home lists nearly every personal detail: what he hates, what he likes.  It's a virtual self-portrait.

Within minutes last Tuesday, he was having his day in court.

He was to stay off the Internet, but online there are 89 Myspace friends of Kevin Stephenson. They were almost all young women.  A few even said they were under 18.  And many of them were apparently engaged in active conversations.

In court, Kevin Stephenson spoke. 

"Can I say anything?"

Justice of the Peace Bob Richardson: "If you want to. You got something to say?"

Stephenson: "I was... I don't understand what they are talking about this Myspace. I know what Myspace is.  I don't even get on there!"

Richardson: "Listen to me Mr. Stephenson. We're not here to try you. We're here to arraign you, set your bond,  and make sure you know your rights."

At the same time, blocks away, officers found Cornelius Simon, 23.  His alleged probation violation was a Myspace page, but only his photo was visible by the general public. 

"That anyone would put their picture on there -- they have no defense," probation officer Johnston says.

Deputies told KLTV when he when he was arrested, he was at home alone, with his young sister and her 13-year old friend.   That was another violation of his probation.

These are two cases in one city.  How many more are out there?  Probation offices are being told statewide to search Myspace to see if their sex offenders are following the rules. 

"The age of the computer has brought in more crime... in more ways than we can think of," says Sheriff Deason.

Officers say they try to track illegal activity, but it's ultimately up to parents to police their children, especially in cyberspace where there are no borders, and no bounds.

Another man was arrested by Rusk County authorities as well and officers say while he didn't put his photograph on a Myspace page, they believe he was active there.  24-year-old Daniel Prather was serving ten years probation for indecency with a child.  The victim was a nine-year-old girl.

By the way, in court appearances this week, bond was set at $15,000 for all three of the men in this report.

Morgan Palmer, Reporting morganpalmer@kltv.com

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