BOSTON -- With five days to go before Christmas, the red light changed to green for John King. On Dec. 20, U.S. District Court Judge William Young ordered that King be granted grandfathered status in light of a new town bylaw that otherwise threatened to keep him from living at his wife's house.
John King, a Level 3 sex offender, and Ashley King married in March after discovering she was pregnant. The couple began dating in the early fall of 2011.
In Oct. 2011, Ayer Town Meeting adopted a bylaw that prevents Level 2 and 3 sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of public parks and senior-housing complexes. Ashley King's house at 6 Whitcomb Ave. is located within 1,000 feet of both Pirone Park and the Pond Street elder housing project.
The couple filed suit against the town on Sept. 5, hoping for a fast ruling to be able to bring their child home to Whitcomb Avenue. Instead the baby was born at Halloween and the couple has resided at the baby's grandparents' house in Harvard ever since.
Now, the newlyweds are clear to move into the house before Christmas and the New Year. On Monday, King co-counsel Eric Tennen indicated he was working to obtain a response from his client regarding the ruling. The Kings were also represented by John Swomley.
The Kings claimed Ayer Police Chief William Murray violated their civil rights when he advised King on April 25 that the town bylaw was in effect. The couple alleged that Murray tried to stall John King's April 19 visit to the Police Department to register as a sex offender.
State law requires all Level 2 and 3 sex offenders to provide advance notice to police departments in communities where the offender intends to live or work. The police dispatcher advised King that a posted letter could serve as evidence of his intended residence. King left on April 19 and was immediately advised by his mother-in-law that she'd send a letter to him from out of state.
The Kings alleged that Murray then discovered the new town bylaw -- that would have barred King from living at his wife's home -- was not on the books. Murray testified that he visited the town clerk and discovered the bylaw needed only be posted in five public places before it took legal effect. Though the Attorney General's Office advised in February the bylaw needed to be posted, the posting occurred on April 24.
On April 25, when King returned to the police station with the letter, Murray advised that the town bylaw would prevent his residency at 6 Whitcomb Ave.
Judge Young ruled that "ambiguity" in state regulations "appeared to require (King) to provide proof of his future residence." Instead, Young found that "King was effectively registered as a resident of 6 Whitcomb Ave., Ayer, on April 19, 2012 ... ," which was the date of King's initial visit to the Police Department.
Testimony referenced the definition of what is sufficient "independent written verification" of an offender's address under 803 CMR 1.03. The regulation requires an offender to provide a police department or the state Sex Offender Registry Board with two forms of independent written verification dated within 45 days of presentation to register.
The list of acceptable documents include a rent or mortgage receipt, utility bill, bank or credit card statement, passport, driver's license, RMV issued photo identification, or "any other current written document the Sex Offender Registry Board deems sufficient."
"Phase 1" of the trial lasted from Nov. 27 through Nov. 29. With last Thursday's ruling, the court will not consider the couple's second major claim -- that the town bylaw is unconstitutional.
Young was clear in stating that the order pertains only to King "and does not have any effect on the constitutionality of the town of Ayer's sex offender residency bylaw."
"Further, this order permits Mr. King to immediately reside at 6 Whitcomb Ave. in Ayer, Massachusetts, with his wife, Ashley King," ruled Young. "It does not, however, address that ability of King to reside at any other location in the town of Ayer."
Meanwhile, criminal charges against King linger at Lowell Superior Court. Ayer Police arrested King on May 15 and charged him with failing to register his address at the 6 Whitcomb Ave. address.
It was not immediately clear what effect the U.S. District Court ruling will have on the pending state criminal charges. In November, Lowell Superior Court Judge David Ricciardone denied King's motion to dismiss the charges against him. During the federal civil trial, Judge Young was clear that he would not permit a rehashing of the criminal charges.
"As we have just recently received this civil court decision, our office has not yet made a determination," on whether to proceed to prosecute the criminal charges, said Middlesex County District Attorney spokesman Stephanie Guyotte on Monday. "We will thoroughly review the civil court decision and determine our best course of action."
The Ayer Board of Selectmen issued a statement on Young's ruling on Friday, Dec. 21.
"The Ayer Board of Selectmen deeply regrets that the bylaw was not posted in a timely manner by the Ayer town clerk. However, we are pleased that the town of Ayer's sex offender residency bylaw remains in place and will continue to provide protection to our most vulnerable citizens of Ayer."
The selectmen state that the rest of the Kings' lawsuit, alleging impropriety by Murray and the Ayer Police Department, "will be dismissed." However, Young's order specifically states that "a separate order will enter with respect to the remaining counts," of the Kings' complaint.
Outstanding counts include claims that Murray violated John and Ashley King's federal and state constitutional right to intrastate travel and for free association. The Kings claimed the denial of those rights caused them "mental anguish, emotional distress, embarrassment" as well as damage to their reputation.
The Kings also sought municipal liability against Murray as the "final policy maker for the Town of Ayer with respect to its police department." Finally the Kings claimed loss of consortium for interference with the couple's marital relationship.