A Year Ago: Naughton back in court Monday

Disgraced tech exec set to be sentenced on charge of travelling interstate to have sex with a 13-year-old - faces up to 18 months in prison
Written by Lisa M. Bowman, Contributor

First published: 11:14 Mon 05 Jun 2000

Former Infoseek executive Patrick Naughton heads back to federal court in Los Angeles Monday, where he's scheduled to be sentenced on charges of traveling across state lines with the intent of having sex with a minor.

In March, Naughton pleaded guilty just days before he was set to face a second trial on charges stemming from a federal cybersting operation.

During the hearing, lawyers from both sides will have the opportunity to argue for the sentence they think Naughton should serve. The 35-year-old faces a maximum of 18 months according to a plea agreement, but part of the document has been sealed and may contain portions that could affect the sentence.

Naughton admitted in March to traveling to California from Washington for a sexual rendezvous with KrisLA, a person he met in a chat room who claimed to be a 13-year-old girl. However, KrisLA was really a male FBI agent masquerading online as the preteen.

At the time of his arrest, last September, Naughton's duties included developing technology for children's content on Walt Disney's GO Network. At the time, Disney was then in the process of acquiring InfoSeek.

In exchange for his guilty plea on the traveling count, federal prosecutors agreed to drop two other charges against Naughton: possession of child porn and using a computer to set up the meeting with KrisLA. The remaining charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Naughton first went to trial in December on all three charges. The arrest and resulting trial raised many new Internet-related legal issues, including questions about how law enforcement uses the Web to catch criminals and whether a jury would buy what came to be known as the fantasy defense -- the assertion that it's reasonable to believe Internet chat partners aren't always who they say they are.

After four days of testimony the jury deadlocked on the travelling and the computer use counts, but found Naughton guilty of possessing child porn. Naughton had claimed on the stand that he never really thought KrisLA was only 13, a charge many jurors believed but one that he would later disavow in his plea agreement.

Just weeks after the trial, the child porn charge was set aside on a legal technicality after a higher court placed restrictions on what could and could not be considered possession of child porn. During the legal roller coaster, Naughton ended up spending a weekend in jail before he was released because of that higher court ruling.

Then in January, US attorneys decided to retry Naughton, but that trial never took place because of Naughton's guilty plea.

Law enforcement warns us of the dangers of the Net and how the medium is a new haven for criminals, but the anonymity of the Web cuts both ways. The cloak of electronic facelessness is the perfect tool for police to run stings and keep an eye on the bad guys. Go with Randy Barrett to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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