ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A convicted “Peeping Tom” who has been in and out of jail for 25 years is now awaiting trial again.
This time, some young women near a college campus hope his stay behind bars will be longer. John Searle, 44, is now accused of peeping in windows near the University of St. Thomas and recording video of young women.
Prosecutors charged him Thursday with two more counts of interfering with privacy and aggravated stalking.
College student Emma Button helped St. Paul police arrest Searle in September when she secretly snapped pictures of his license plate while she says he lurked in a neighbor’s yard just feet away.
“He is really taking advantage of the safety people feel in their homes,” Button said.
WCCO interviewed college students in 2004 who thought Searle had been peeping in their windows. Searle has been convicted of stalking and interfering with privacy a total of 10 times.
Criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino says state law carries a two-year maximum sentence for interfering with privacy or “peeping,” no matter how many times a person has been convicted of that same crime.
Button says it is clear Searle’s behavior is sexually motivated, but Tamburino explains because the alleged crimes do not cause physical harm, the sentences tend to be lighter.
“Until that statutory maximum is changed by the legislature this is going to always be the same,” Tamburino said.
This week, prosecutors charged Searle with stalking again after investigators say they found several videos of the same woman, taken outside of her bedroom window, on multiple nights.
“It very easily could’ve been one of us in the videos,” Button said.
Aggravated stalking carries a 10-year maximum sentence.
“I don’t’ want to live in the house I’m in again because I know if he comes out of prison he will start doing it all over again,” Button said.
Searle is in Ramsey county jail. His next court date is Nov. 30.
Button says she and her roommates are thinking about asking their lawmakers to try to work on rewriting the laws having to do with peeping. Tamburino says a judge could order some sort of treatment program, but it would typically be in place of prison time.
He doesn’t think that is a likely outcome here.