How sex offender Mark Carrigan managed his prolific criminal careerJames A. Cohen in Syracuse.com, October 15, 2013
A teenage boy getting ready for school one December morning in 1992 noticed a man watching him from outside of his window. He told a parent, who went outside but didn't see anyone.
The next morning, the parent woke early and watched the house. The man was back, and this time, Syracuse police were called. The peeping Tom was Mark Carrigan, a man known to the family. He was also a known sex offender on probation for sodomizing a boy under the age of 11.
In the last two decades, Carrigan's criminal career has raged, raising questions about how and why he has been able to repeatedly victimize children.
Syracuse police labeled Carrigan "perhaps the most prolific offender registered in the City of Syracuse" and have arrested him more than a dozen times on 40 charges.
Carrigan's criminal history illustrates how a compulsive sex offender with multiple arrests can continue to reoffend for decades, according to two experts not involved with the case -- Fordham School of Law professor James Cohen and Dr. Naftali Berrill, director of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioral Science.
The state usually addresses criminal persistence with tougher penalties for criminals with multiple felony convictions, but most of Carrigan's offenses, sexual or otherwise, have been misdemeanors or violations.
"It becomes a problem because it's not like 10 misdemeanors add to a felony," said Berill, who specializes in sex offender evaluations and treatment.
Of the 16 felonies Carrigan has been charged with, three have resulted in convictions. He also has 12 misdemeanors on his record.
Over the last 18 years, Carrigan has spent around eight years, intermittently, behind bars. One of Carrigan's convictions has resulted in prison time - for grand larceny.
"The type of conduct determines how severe the charge will be," Berill explained. "(Carrigan) skates along the border. If the victims don't claim that he forced the sex - that it's not rape or a physical assault - it's treated more like indecent behavior."
Berill said that as long as Carrigan doesn't change his mode of operation, he could continue on this path "forever."
Carrigan is now in court on allegations that he sexually exploited four teenage boys last year. At the time, Carrigan was already facing charges that he engaged in similar crimes with a 15-year-old. Carrigan pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of sexual misconduct in November 2012 and was placed on probation.
Cohen said the district attorney's office should - and could--have put a stop to Carrigan's activities last year. That's when Carrigan was offered a plea deal for probation rather than jail time. Under the terms of the deal, Carrigan was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor crime, although he had originally faced a felony charge called criminal sex act.
"I have to wonder, what is the district attorney doing up there?" Cohen said "The DA ought to have or be looking for a conviction in which he (Carrigan) can be getting a lot of time."
Carrigan's case made headlines last year because he had been working for the city, in the department of public works, at the time of his arrest. The Post-Standard wrote a series of stories questioning how and why the city hired Carrigan, given his lengthy record.
Cohen said prosecutors, who were aware of Carrigan's pattern of behavior, probably should have taken a "risk" and gone to trial if that was the only way to possibly secure a felony conviction with prison time. He also said that, generally, prosecutors can "ratchet up" charges against a suspect when looking for tougher punishment.
"I can't believe that, if you took a hard look at his file, that a good prosecutor could not legitimately make the facts fit to secure a stronger conviction, with a tougher sentence," he said.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick responded to the criticism with an e-mailed statement.
"In reality, prosecutors do not have the luxury of 'ratcheting up" charges or waving a magic wand and making the charges "more serious" because we don't like a defendant," Fitzpatrick said. "Prosecutors have an ethical obligation to present competent, admissible, relevant evidence to judges and juries, even if we secretly would love the charges to be 'more serious.' "
Jeremy Cali, the assistant district attorney who dealt with Carrigan's 2012 case, said there were problems with the key witness, making prosecution difficult. The 15-year-old was arrested twice while the case was winding through the system. Cali said the boy was "on the streets" and less than cooperative. He noted that Carrigan was "smart" about the victims he chose.
Police say Carrigan "grooms" his victims by providing them with food, money, drugs and other gifts while exploiting them sexually.
Cali said he offered Carrigan a plea deal with a probation sentence rather than jail time based on weaknesses in the case, which included credibility issues with an uncooperative victim.
Cohen questioned that rationale.
"The notion that a victim doesn't want to participate is not news," he said. "We deal with that sort of thing in this country, in prosecutor's offices, all the time. These are routine issues."
Cohen noted that the deal did not rest solely on the prosecution's shoulders because a judge had to approve the plea deal struck between attorneys in court.
The most recent case against Carrigan may yield different results than he's seen in the past, however.
This time, the indictment filed by a grand jury against Carrigan includes four victims and higher level felony charges.
Prosecutor Tony Germano, who is handling the case, said Carrigan will face an "elevated sentence" if convicted, based on the felony classifications.