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Larson to ask judges to use GPS tracking

The General Assembly won't consider legislation to allow GPS monitoring for Kentucky domestic violence offenders until January. But Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said he will begin asking judges in Fayette County to order the electronic devices for the most dangerous offenders immediately.

"If we know about safety concerns, we ought to be doing what we can to keep a person who is terrified safe," Larson said this week. He noted that victims, if they choose, could also wear a device alerting them the offender is within a certain distance.

Larson said his office has begun assessing domestic violence offenders charged with crimes like stalking, assault, and violation of a protective order before they appear in court to ask for pre-trial release.

Larson said he thinks he can make the requests now under an existing state law that allows judges to put conditions on the release of people charged with domestic violence offenses. The current law, however, doesn't specifically mention devices using the Global Positioning System.

The prosecutor said the bill House Speaker Greg Stumbo has pre-filed for the 2010 legislative session is necessary because it would spell out the use of the devices and allow judges to conduct a risk assessment before assigning one to someone charged with domestic violence.

Stumbo's legislation would allow a court to impose GPS monitoring as a condition of bail for a person charged with domestic violence or violation of a protective order, which orders an alleged assailant to stay away from a victim.

Under the legislation, victims of domestic violence would be allowed to wear an alert device, if they chose to do so.

On Sept. 11, Amanda Ross, 29, a state Department of Insurance employee, was gunned down outside her Lexington townhouse. Her former fiancee, Steve Nunn, was arrested in the shooting.

Ross had taken out an order of protection against Nunn, a former state legislator and son of the late Gov. Louie Nunn, earlier this year. She told friends and co-workers that she feared for her life in the days before her death. Nunn has pleaded not guilty to murder and violation of a domestic violence order.

Less than two weeks after Ross was slain, Stumbo pre-filed for the 2010 General Assembly what has been dubbed "Amanda's Bill."

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, has said he would expect a new law allowing GPS monitoring to affect about 15 percent of the 11,000 domestic violence orders in Kentucky each year.

Similar legislation has been passed in 15 states, and none has recorded a murder in a case in which the monitoring has been used.

Meanwhile, Larson said he was prepared to ask for electronic monitoring in Fayette Circuit Court last week, but the judge decided not to let the offenders out of jail.

"Sometimes a case comes along that looks so dangerous that you can't wait for" a new law, said Mary Houlihan, director of victims' services in Larson's office.

Darlene Thomas, executive director of the Bluegrass Domestic Violence program, said Sunday that, as an advocate, she was supportive of Larson going ahead with the requests to judges and "taking all measures possible" in the most dangerous cases

In addition to Larson's decision to make the requests now in high-risk felony cases, Fayette County officials from several agencies are working to launch an official pilot program for electronic monitoring before the legislation is passed.

Houlihan, who is certified to conduct the danger assessments, said the police, the sheriff's office, the county attorney's office and advocates will all be involved in the pilot project. University of Kentucky researcher TK Logan is providing research to the Fayette County group and will collect data once the device is used, Houlihan said.

Under the pilot project, Houlihan said, judges, attorneys, court workers and others will be educated on how electronic monitoring works in domestic violence cases.

The results of the pilot project in Lexington will be given to state lawmakers and should allow the monitors to be used more quickly in domestic violence cases across the state, Houlihan said.

Officials at a home incarceration monitoring company based in London are already monitoring at least four alleged domestic violence offenders who wear GPS bracelets as part of a state program that allows people to leave jail under certain conditions before their trials.

"The GPS can be a lifesaver," Larson said.