When is a sex predator not a sex predator?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Thomas Cole is no angel. His rap sheet includes everything from retail theft to drag racing to kiting checks. But is he a sexual predator?

He is, according to the courts and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's sexual predator registry. But unlike most others listed in the statewide database, Cole was not charged with, nor convicted of a sex crime.

"It believe it's wrong," Cole, 34, told First Coast News. "I was never charged with a sexual charge, the alleged victim never alleged a sexual allegation against me. I wasn't charged with one, I did not plead out to one, and I was never convicted of one."

Cole's crime was the attempted kidnapping of an 11-year-old girl. According to police and prosecutors, in September 2002, while at the 103rd Street Walmart, he handed the girl a note that read, "There's a gun in my pants. If you want to live, keep quite[sic] and walk out with me now."

The girl dropped the note and ran, and Cole left the store. The incident was captured on surveillance video and Cole's fingerprints found on the note. Cole, who said he was drinking smoking crack at the time, signed a confession a few days later. He ultimately plead guilty to to attempted kidnapping, and was sentenced to 10 years in state prison and labeled a Sexual Predator.

According to Florida's Sexual Predator statute, kidnapping a child under 13 is on the list of offenses that can qualify someone as a predator. Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei, who prosecuted the case, told First Coast News that Cole's label is appropriate. "It's not stereotypical sex crime," he said, "But it's on the list for a reason, and the court has authority and power to do apply that designation."

"Kidnapping is on the list for a reason." He added that a doctor's psychosexual evaluation couldn't rule out a sexual motivation for Cole's crime.

Circuit Judge John Skinner, agreed. "Mr. Cole is a danger to the rest of us out there," he said at his 2003 sentencing. "And accordingly, because he is such a danger … I will declare him a sexual predator."

Criminal Defense attorney Richard Kuritz says Cole's designation might seem like a quirk in the law. "It is, because there's no sex involved. At least it didn't get to that point. But that's the whole issue: Had it gone forward and not been stopped, would it have ended there? Or would it have ended with more tragic consequences?"

Kuritz compared the case to that of Donald Smith, who has been charged in the rape and killing of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle. He adds that forecasting the mind of a criminal -- once thought unconstitutional -- has been upheld by the courts in some circumstances. The Jimmy Ryce Act, for instance, allows for the indefinite confinement of someone whom the courts have deemed could commit a future sex offense against a child.

"Any time you have an adult who's trying to kidnap a child under the age of 13 there is a bad purpose here," says Kuritz.

But Cole says the designation doesn't fit his crime. Though his numerous appeals over the past decade have been denied, he considers his predator label a permanent mistake.

"I was never accused of a sex charge I'm not convicted of one I didn't commit one," he says. "Nobody understands it."


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