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Sex offender error rectified

BROOKSVILLE — Sitting in a patio chair in the front yard of his home, Dakota O'Neal pointed to the mobile home across the street. Then O'Neal gestured to a home near the end of the dusty road. Finally, he looked over his right shoulder toward the door of his family's mobile home.

"There are children all up and down this block," O'Neal said Friday. "We should have known someone like that lived in our neighborhood."

O'Neal was referring to Thomas Wolverton, who was declared a sexual offender during an emergency hearing Friday in Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Court after authorities learned he had been living in Brooksville for more than a month without notifying the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

Wolverton, 23, had managed to escape the tag of sex offender because of a judge's oversight during his March 2004 sentencing to six years in prison and nine years of probation for lewd and lascivious conduct on three children, ages 4, 5 and 7, in 2002. Court transcripts show Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Daniel Diskey misspoke as he went into the details of Wolverton's plea deal.

Diskey said Wolverton would be considered neither a sexual predator nor a sexual offender as part of the deal, the latter a mistake that managed to slip past the prosecutor. That oversight allowed Wolverton to live in Brooksville without having to notify the Sheriff's Office.

Diskey corrected that mistake Friday, officially affirming Wolverton's classification as a sexual offender and saying that he should have been declared one before. Diskey noted that the error was inadvertent.

But Wolverton, who was released from prison in April, again found himself behind bars Friday afternoon. Wolverton was set to be transferred from Pasco County jail to Hernando County Jail to face charges of failing to register with authorities as a felon. His bail was set at $2,500.

"Now that he has the proper designation as sexual offender, he will be required to register and meet all the laws pertaining to sexual offenders," said Sgt. Donna Black, a spokeswoman for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

"He now joins the other convicted sexual offenders on the (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) site, which gives the public access to his address and picture. Just another measure to keep our children safe."

That was a small consolation for O'Neal, who lives next door to Wolverton's family in the 16000 block of Sarasota Street in Brooksville. O'Neal shares a cramped mobile home with his father, Larry Bussell; sister, Darlene Moenius; and her four children, boys who are 7, 7, 10 and 15.

"(Wolverton) should be in a cage somewhere," Bussell said. "You can't cure that kind of problem. Why should I have to worry about my grandkids because of someone like that?"

At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, Wolverton cut an imposing figure to his next-door neighbors. Yet, somehow, the lumbering Wolverton avoided much notice until the mother of the children he assaulted in 2002 spotted him in a parking lot along U.S. 19 and called the Sheriff's Office wondering why he was free so soon.

Wolverton wasn't immediately available for comment. Two women who lived at his listed address shooed away a Times reporter Friday afternoon.

O'Neal held out hope Wolverton wouldn't return to their neighborhood. If he did, O'Neal said, he planned to be less than neighborly.

"It's a good thing someone told us about this guy," O'Neal said. "I just hope he doesn't come back over here."

Times Staff Writer Camille Spencer contributed to this report. Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or 754-6120.

Sex offender error rectified 06/20/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2008 11:11am]
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