Royal Oak Woman is a Force for Change in Sex Offender Laws

Francie Baldino is on a mission to remove low-risk individuals convicted of minor sexual offenses from Michigan‘s Public Sex Offender Registry.

ByJudy Davids

       Royal Oak resident Francie Baldino started Michigan Citizens for Justice, a support group that has fought to reform sex offender law. The group met Saturday in Royal Oak to review changes to the Sex Offender Registration Act.

  Royal Oak resident Francie Baldino is pictured with her son Ken Thorsberry. Baldino started Michigan Citizens for Justice, a support group that has fought to reform sex offender law, after Thorsberry was imprisoned as a teenager for having sex with his then-14-year-old girlfriend.Credit Francie Baldino                                 Ken Thorsberry was surprised with a guitar on the day he was released from prison. CreditJudy Davids
More than 30 people, all of whom say their lives and futures have been turned upside down by the blanket registration of all sex offenders, gathered over the weekend in Royal Oak to discuss the impact of changes made to Michigan Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) in July.

Royal Oak resident Francie Baldino started Michigan Citizens for Justice, a support group that has fought to reform sex offender laws, after her son was imprisoned as a teenager for having sex with his girlfriend, who was 14 years old at the time.

Baldino said the teenagers met while hanging out in Birmingham when her son, Kenneth Thorsberry, was 16 and the girl was 13. The pair started a relationship. “They spent every minute together,” Baldino said.

The girlfriend lived with her father in Lake Orion. Baldino said the girl’s father originally approved of her son — so much so that he often left the teenagers alone together.

“When the dad got wind his daughter was having sex, he told my son to stay out of the picture,” she said. “My son was rebellious.”

Thorsberry was 18 at the time, Baldino said, and the girl’s father pressed charges for criminal sexual conduct.

“My son was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, and he went away for 10 months,” Baldino said. “He was released on probation and told to ‘stay away from her,’ but he broke down after (she) asked to see him. He ended up getting another criminal sexual misconduct.”

This time, Thorsberry was 19, and the girl was just shy of her 16th birthday – the age of consent in Michigan.

For breaking his probation, Thorsberry was sentenced to 5-15 years in prison, even though the girl testified in court that the pair had consensual sex. Thorsberry served 6½ years.

“He went in as a kid and he came out as a man,” Baldino said of her son. “All of the terrible things you hear about prison are true. But he took classes, got a job and did what he could to keep busy.”

Baldino said it was “quite an ordeal” and “sad for her family.”

To keep from falling apart, Baldono became a relentless voice for reforming sex offender laws — particularly the Sex Offender Registration Act, which was enacted in 1995 to monitor people who pose a potential danger to society. Baldino does not believe its purpose was keep teenagers from having consensual sex. “It was meant to protect people from child abusers and rapists,” she said.

Changes to Sex Offender Registration Act

When the state made drastic changes to SORA in July, “It was a huge thing,” Baldino said. Changes included a new petitioning procedure for removal from the registry in cases of consensual sex — so-called Romeo and Juliet — cases if:

  • the victim was 13 or older at the time of the offense.
  • the petitioner is no more than four years older than the victim.

The new law also removes juveniles younger than 14 from the registry.

Thorsberry, who was paroled in early August, petitioned the court and was the first person in Oakland County to be removed from the sex offender registry in late August. In Michigan, more than 46,000 people were on the list in 2010, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Michigan Citizens for Justice

While Baldino is estatic that her son won his petition, she remains fervent about educating the public and supporting those whose lives have been negatively affected by laws that she says “scream injustice.”

“When this happened to my son, I didn’t realize how many labels he would get — ‘sick,’ ‘scary,’ ‘creepy,’ ‘pedophile’.” Her son is none of those things, she said.

During the weekend gathering in Royal Oak, Baldino listened to families in similar situations who said their sons or daughters were falsely accused, pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit to avoid jail time or, in one case, are serving time for sending indecent text messages.

Baldino said members of her group are skittish about having their names or pictures being used in public. “They are afraid of retaliation,” she said. One woman at the meeting said her son told her not to say anything because he feared for his safety in prison.

Saturday, the group moved through a long agenda, which included how to speak to state representatives, letter-writing campaigns, starting petitions and receiving updates on laws.

There was also time allotted for individuals to share their stories and struggles. Baldino listened intently to each, offering support.

“Not many people know the devastating effects of sex offender laws unless they have experienced it themselves,” she said.

For more information on Michigan Citizens for Justice, visit micitizensforjustice.com.

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