(The following post is my column from last week's Newton County News)
At first, when Diamond Police officer Jim Murray began his successful string of Internet sex stings, I wondered about the wisdom of this project. Why should Murray be bringing perverts from Michigan or Illinois into Diamond. Let them stay where they are and never darken our streets.
I have changed my mind since the arrests he has had in recent months, have included numerous offenders from this area.
If you are not familiar with Murray's project, it works like this: Murray poses as a 13-year-old girl and has no trouble finding adults wanting to violate children. He never brings up the subject of sex, but it does not take long for these men to do so.
I wrote several weeks ago in this column about Gary Reed Blankenship of Neosho, the former O'Sullivan Industries official who is appealing his conviction (at taxpayer expense) for attempting to solicit someone he thought was a minor.
Last week, the Missouri Southern District Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of another of Murray's targets, Billy Joe Ward of Joplin.
The court rejected Billy Joe Ward's contention that he was entrapped by Murray. Ward was found guilty June 22, 2006, by a Newton County jury on charges of enticement of a child and attempted statutory sodomy and was sentenced to four years on each count to be served consecutively.
According to court records, during an internet conversation Ward attempted to set up a sexual encounter with a 13-year-old girl named Ashley. Ashley was actually Murray. When Ward arrived at the pre-arranged meeting place, he was arrested. The following account of Ward's arrest was included in the court's opinion:
In January 2006, Officer Murray was conducting an investigation. He was asked what precipitated the investigation. He answered that he had been advised there was the possibility "a subject" was trying to entice or meet young girls by way of the internet or in person; that the focal point of the investigation was defendant.
Detective Murray found an online profile for defendant under the screen name "Winterwolf772000." The profile included defendant's real name, address, telephone number, and picture. It stated his age as 30. Detective Murray established an online profile for a fictitious 13-year-old named Ashley. He established a Yahoo ID for her as "ashleyanne1938." The profile did not give Ashley's age. (Detective Murray, speaking as Ashley, explained, "It makes it more convenient for me to tell my age in the first chat.") The profile stated that Ashley was a single female. It listed her occupation as "student." Her hobby was "hanging out at the Joplin mall."
After establishing Ashley's profile, Detective Murray, as Ashley, requested that defendant add Ashley to his instant messaging and sent an instant message ("IM") to defendant. The next day defendant and Ashley began exchanging messages. Defendant asked Ashley how old she was. Ashley told him she was 13.
After Ashley told defendant she was 13, defendant replied that he was 32; that she was "way too young" for him. Defendant asked, "Are you a cop?" He was told "no." Defendant told Ashley that the minimum age for him was 18. Defendant nevertheless told Ashley to "IM me later or call me," and again asked her name. He asked where she lived. Ashley answered, "Diamond." Defendant continued the exchange. He asked if Ashley had a way to Joplin. Ashley answered that she might have a way to get there Friday after school; that she could ask a friend to take her.
Ashley contacted defendant later and told him a friend would take her to Joplin; that they went to the mall a lot and shopped. Defendant responded to Ashley's message. He asked where she was. Ashley replied, "At home. I played hooky today. Shhh. Don't tell." Defendant asked Ashley to call him. He gave her his telephone number. Ashley told defendant her mother had just come in and asked if he would "be on in an hour." Ashley told defendant her mother would be going to Neosho; that she could call then. Defendant told her, "Call me. I need to hear your voice."(FN2)
Defendant continued the exchange with Ashley. He asked why she chose him. Ashley told him because he lived in Joplin and had a sexy picture on his profile; that it appeared he did not have clothes on in the picture. She concluded the statement with "LOL" which Detective Murray said meant "laughing out loud." Defendant replied, "And you liked that. You know, I could get in real trouble if we got caught. And you don't mind that I am older?" Ashley answered, "Don't tell my mom. Okay?"
Defendant told Ashley that he got off work at one or two a.m. He asked if Ashley could come see him then. Ashley told him to let her think about how she could work that out. The meeting place was to be a truck stop in Joplin. Detective Murray contacted Jasper County law enforcement authorities who, along with a female decoy arranged by Murray, waited at the truck stop from about 1:30 a.m. until 2:30 a.m., but defendant never appeared.
The next evening, about 7:35 p.m., defendant contacted Ashley by e-mail. He told Ashley he had gotten off work late the night before and asked if they could meet right then at the truck stop. Defendant again asked, "You ain't no cop, are you? If I smell police, I'm out of there."
The talk became more graphic as it continued and eventually a rendezvous was arranged
Murray contacted a female police officer to act as decoy at the truck stop. He told her to wear a red ball cap. Murray had defendant's photograph and defendant's Yahoo profile. Murray told the court and jury:
I arrived at 9:30, right at 9:30, and saw [defendant] sitting at a table inside [the truck stop] on the south -- on the west side of [the truck stop], that area, and he got up and went into the restaurant area and looked around, and came back and sat down at the table.
The decoy arrived. She walked from the east side of the truck stop and went to the door she had been told to use. About two minutes later, defendant got up and went to the door where the decoy had gone outside. Detective Murray followed defendant outside and intercepted him before he reached the woman decoy. Defendant acknowledged that Ashley told him she was 13 years old; that his e-mail address was the one Ashley had communicated with.
The appeals court ruled that Ward was not entrapped by Murray.
It is sad that society has a need for police officers to do such things, but fortunately this area has a policeman in Murray who has been able to get these perverts off the streets.