UPDATE: Vigil for homelsss sex offender found frozen to death

5:42 AM, Mar 22, 2009   |    comments
Thomas Pauli
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Grand Rapids, MI (WZZM)- Marchers at a Grand Rapids candlelight vigil say even a sex offender should be offered shelter from the cold.

"To think that someone could die alone on the streets of Grand Rapids is such an injustice," says Marge Palmerlee, Executive Director of Degage Ministries. "It's so unnecessary."

Thomas Pauli, a 52 year old homeless man, froze to death in Grand Rapids last January because he couldn't get into either of the downtown shelters.

20 years ago Pauli molested a girl under age 13.

He served 11 years in prison.

Because the Mel Trotter Shelter and the Guiding Light Mission are both within 1,000 feet of a school, the convicted sex offender could not spend the night.

"The law states sex offenders cannot reside within 1,000 feet of a school and we are within 1,000 feet of a school," explains Rev. Ralph Collins of Mel Trotter Ministries.

Unable to find shelter, Pauli walked 6 blocks to an alley next to an auto repair shop.

He was found frozen to death kneeling between 2 cars in a position of prayer.

"For something like this to happen in our city is truly a tragedy," says Mike Hoogeboom of LeGrave Christian Church.

About 100 people carried candles and signs the 6 blocks from the shelters to the alley where Pauli died.

They want people to understand the potentially devastating consequences of the law.

"It's a well intentioned law but nobody intended for something like this to happen," says Hoogeboom. 

Marchers also want lawmakers to consider amendments or options to prevent similar outcomes in the future.

"Get a ruling on what the law really means," says Palmerlee. It says you cant reside within 1,000 feet of a school but is staying overnight in a rescue mission residing?"

Vigil leaders say another option is open a shelter at least 1,000 feet away from a school.

With more people losing their home and more sex crime convictions they say there are probably going to be others who have no where to get warm when ti's killer cold outside.

"I think it's a shame something hasn't been figured out," says Rev. Collins.

Phil Dawson

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