CONWAY — Interest in the case of a registered sex offender in Horry County being allowed to live next door to the 10-year-old girl he pleaded guilty to soliciting has spread nationwide and may land the girls father on CNN newsman Anderson Coopers daytime television show.
The story that first appeared Tuesday in The Sun News was posted on Gawker.com where Andersons producer, Keren Schiffman, saw it. Others have learned about it through reposting of messages on the Facebook pages of Chris Smith, the father, and his sister, Michelle Gisondi of Cary, N.C.
About 215 people had signed an online petition by Sunday afternoon at change.org that was posted by Gisondis friend, Jayme Driscoll.
The bottom line is keeping this little girl safe, Driscoll said, echoing the sentiment expressed by many of those who have signed the petition.
Driscoll said she first posted the petition on Wednesday and plans to leave it online for two weeks before letting Smith print out the responses and take them to people hes trying to lobby to change the law that allows the man to live next door and to have the judgment reversed, forcing the man to move elsewhere.
A copy of the petition is available at http://tinyurl.com/8vsla6h.
Smith also has had conversations with a man in Idaho who believes, according to what he told The Sun News and Smith, that there may be a clause in the state law that could make the man have to relocate.
Smiths neighbor Kerry Dane Marlowe pleaded guilty earlier this year to criminal solicitation of a minor for an incident that happened last year over the chain link fence that separates his yard from Smiths. Smith believes the offense was more serious than solicitation, saying that at one point, Marlowe exposed himself to Smiths daughter.
Marlowe was charged by Horry County police with committing a lewd act on a minor, but was plea bargained to the lesser offense and was sentenced to four years probation.
Senior Assistant Solicitor Candice Lively said Marlowe told her he was drunk when the incident took place. Smiths mother, Sally Osborne, doesnt believe it happened at all.
Lively said because she had received no replies from telephone and mailed communications to Smith, she assumed he and his family had left Horry County, as she said is often the case with transient, temporary residents who are frequently the alleged victims in such cases. It was learned later that the solicitors office had mailed some communication with Smith to Marlowes mother by mistake, but Lively said she logged in a January call to Smith so she knows it went to the right number. There was no response to that call nor was there immediate response to a call the day the plea was to be taken and the sentence imposed.
Smith did try to call Lively during the afternoon of the second call, and the two finally arranged a meeting on the Tuesday after the Friday hearing.
Lively agreed to have a rehearing because, she said, Smith had a constitutional right to be heard. But the sentence remained the same and Marlowe was allowed to continue living next door to Smith and his daughter.
Lively said she thought what Marlowe did was creepy, but said she does not consider him a sexual predator because he has none of the characteristics that are known as common among predators.
She said that because of that, and because she knows that Smith would quickly complain if the probation stipulation that Marlowe stay at least 30 feet away from the girl had been broken, she thinks there is little if any chance of a reoccurrence.
She said that if Marlowe violates his parole, he would immediately be sent to prison to serve the remainder of his term.
Despite all that, Driscoll said, the fact that there was an initial advance set the stage for a reoccurrence. She said that particularly where children are concerned, it is better to be proactive in prevention than to have to be reactive after something has happened.
Schiffman said she thought the situation was crazy when she read about the incident online.
She said that if the show decides to air something about the situation, she or someone else will have to talk first with Marlowe or his mother.
If it does air, she said that it will likely be in the first 15 minutes of the program, when Cooper is doing wrap ups of news. She said that Smith could be included either by telephone or Skype.
Smith said Friday that a heart condition he first noticed two years ago has become worse in the past two weeks, and he believes the stress from the situation has caused it. He said he will be wearing a heart monitor because of lightheadedness and flutterings in his chest.
He said he may start his own online petition that will include a clause about changing South Carolina law so whats happened to him will not happen to anyone else.
This goes against common decency, he said.
Smith has said that his daughter is doing well.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.