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Vt. Sex Offender Runs For Office

Larkin Forney doesn't have the most conventional background: He's a convicted sex offender and drunken driver, a head injury victim and a marijuana legalization advocate.

But that hasn't stopped him running for state Senate.

Forney, 31, of Milton, who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a minor and has three driving under the influence convictions, said he's running to bring public attention to flaws in the criminal justice system - and to let the world know he's no pedophile.

He knows his background may scare off some voters, but he figures honesty might win him some votes in the race for one of six at-large seats representing Vermont's most populous county.

"All my skeletons are out in the open, while other people continue to deny theirs," he said.

Vermont law has no ban on people with criminal records running for office. If you live in the district you want to represent and you gather enough signatures from people - in state Senate races, that's 100 - you can get on the ballot.

Forney did.

His name appears with 13 others on Tuesday's ballot, under the "Justice for Vermonters" party label. In his campaign literature, he says diagnosed sexual predators and pedophiles should be sent to prison for life, marijuana should be legalized and U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq.

"We haven't had situations where anybody with that kind of record's been elected," said Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz. "We've had people with criminal records run for office, usually at the local level, for constable or lister. At the end of the day, the voters make a choice."

In any election, Forney probably would face an uphill battle. Running this year makes his candidacy especially unlikely.

The abduction, rape and murder of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett - allegedly by her sex-offender uncle, Michael Jacques - has badly shaken people in Vermont, and prompted a vigorous election-year debate over how best to prevent sex crimes and punish those responsible.

Electing a sex offender? It could happen, Forney says.

"I don't think I have that bad of a shot," he said. "The government can put the sex offender label on someone, but it doesn't make them a pedophile or a dangerous person."

Forney, who suffered a traumatic brain injury as an 8-year-old boy when he was hit by a car, blames the injury for some of his troubles, which include a suicide attempt in which he set himself on fire.

The sex charge stemmed from a 2002 incident in which he had sex with a 14-year-old girl. He says the sex was consensual, and that the girl lied about her age. Attempts to reach her for comment - through the Chittenden County victim's advocate's office - were unsuccessful.

Forney, who pleaded guilty to the charge in 2005, served 19 months in prison. He claims he was pressured into the plea.

Whatever the truth, his candidacy was a surprise.

"It's a little odd that in this political climate, he's willing to run," said state Sen. Diane Snelling, a Republican. "To some extent, you have to give the guy credit. If he wants to take his case to the people, great. But his argument will only reach certain people."

Pearse Corcoran, 22, of Burlington, who cast his vote last week at Burlington City Hall, said he didn't vote for Forney.

"I had heard about him. I heard it was circumstantial and all that, but I think that's irrelevant. Plus, there's the DUI thing," he said.

Should Forney win, he would not be subject to a state Constitution article that gives the House and Senate the authority to expel a member. Such expulsion can't be for causes known to voters before the election, according to David Gibson, secretary of the state Senate.

"That sounds like it would exclude him," said Gibson.

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