A Wilkinsburg man broke the law when he defied a custody order and went into hiding with his 2-year-old daughter. But a sentence that brands him a sexual offender — when he committed no sexual offense — reveals a glitch in state law that should be corrected.
The saga began in December when Tex Ortiz, 32, fled with his daughter, whose mother is dead, three days after a court awarded interim custody to the toddler’s maternal grandmother. Ortiz was apprehended 15 days later in Altoona; the child was not harmed. In May, a jury found him guilty of kidnapping and interference with the custody of a child.
Ortiz was sentenced on Monday in Common Pleas Court by Judge Donna Jo McDaniel. He was ordered to serve eight to 22 years in prison and told he would have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. That’s because the state’s kidnapping statute, toughened in 2012 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky abuse scandal, requires lifetime registration in all cases involving a minor.
Ortiz, whatever his sins, has not been accused of a sexual offense. To publicly brand him a sexual offender, especially after his sentence is complete, is both cruel and unusual, and likely not what the General Assembly intended. One University of Pittsburgh law professor said “it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Don’t blame Judge McDaniel; she had to apply the law as written. But the Legislature should revisit the law to make sure this can’t happen again.