As opening statements commenced in the trial of Patrick Naughton, the prosecution tried to paint the former Infoseek executive as a predator who deliberately enticed a young girl he met in a chat room to hook up with him for sex at the Santa Monica Pier.
The defence, meanwhile, countered that the "girl" -- who was really an FBI agent posing as a girl -- used language that made Naughton believe she was of age. The defence also said Naughton was heading for his car when FBI agents nabbed him, not for a liaison with a girl as the prosecution claims.
Naughton, of Seattle, Washington, is charged with crossing state lines with the intent to have sex with a minor, using the Internet to set up the meeting, and possessing child porn.
Opening statements began in the US District Court here Tuesday afternoon after a jury panel of six men and six women -- including one who works at Disneyland -- was seated. Naughton's former employer, Infoseek, is now owned by the Walt Disney. On the day of his arrest, Naughton flew into Burbank Airport on a Disney-owned aircraft, although Disney has since stated that he was not an employee.
While selecting the panel, the judge quizzed prospective jurors on their feelings about law enforcement and their familiarity with computers, the Internet, and chat rooms. The government succeeded in tossing out most of the prospective jurors who were heavy chat room visitors while the defence rejected several who didn't use the Internet.
During opening statements, prosecutor Patricia Donahue presented details of a series of chats between Naughton -- who called himself "hotseattle" online -- and the agent posing as a 13-year-old girl. Donahue told jurors that the liaison began on March 8, after Naughton sent an unsolicited message to an agent posing as a 13-year-old girl named "krysLA" in the dads&daughtersex.log chat room. "He proceeded to tell Krys some of the sex acts he wanted to perform when they met," Donahue said.
She said evidence presented at trial would show that, during a series of chats from March until September, FBI agent Bruce Applin repeatedly reminded Naughton he was only a 13-year-old girl and gave him several chances to back out of a meeting. But she said Naughton persisted, typing that his interest in krysLA was "real" and pressing for a rendezvous at the Santa Monica Pier.
"He chose to contact the undercover agent and he chose to tell the undercover agent over and over again he was not fantasising," Donahue said.
When Naughton arrived at the Burbank Airport in a plane owned by Disney on 16 September, Donahue told jurors he asked for directions directly to the Santa Monica Pier, instead of going to the Mondrian Hotel, where he was scheduled to stay. Donahue said Naughton had told KrysLA in a 16 September email to follow him out of the crowd after spotting him on the pier because people might think it's strange to see a 34-year-old man meeting up with a 13-year-old girl.
"Fortunately, the person whom the defendant actually met at the pier was not a 13 year-old-girl," Donahue told jurors. Instead, it was a woman FBI agent working undercover. Donahue said agents also discovered child porn on Naughton's computer that night. "They found pictures of naked little girls... pictures of girls engaged in sexual intercourse with men," she said.
Naughton, a Silicon Valley star who led Java development at Sun Microsystems before going to Infoseek, sat poised at the defence table facing the jurors. Dressed in a charcoal suit, he paid close attention to jury selection proceedings but cast his eyes downward at a piece of paper in front of him during much of the opening remarks.
During opening statements for the defence, Donald Marks portrayed Naughton as an Internet innovator and said his client simply had been fantasising in the chat rooms. "He believed that the people he chatted with on the Internet on a regular basis assumed false identities," Marks said.
He pointed out that the dad&daughters chat room not only says it's for fantasy purposes but also states that it's for people aged 16 and older. Marks indicated that Naughton would take the stand, saying he would assert that he didn't knowingly possess child porn and instead had deleted the images repeatedly.
Marks also said he would show that his client believed krysLA was not a minor because of the advanced spelling and witty style of her messages -- responses that "as far as Mr. Naughton was concerned were not the responses of a 13 year old... and they weren't."
Marks said the FBI agent drew answers out of Naughton that would later be used against him by asking him suggestive questions such as "tell me why I should meet you and what you want to do?"
As for the night of 16 September, the night he was arrested, Marks said Naughton was not in town solely to meet with krysLA but instead was travelling in a Disney-owned plane because he had a 17 September board meeting with the company. Marks said Naughton went to the pier out of curiosity after the people he was travelling with left him by himself at the Burbank airport. "He decided 'the heck with it, I'll go to Santa Monica. I'll see who this is,'" Marks said.
The lawyer said his client then had a couple of drinks at the pier, and was heading back to his car when he heard someone talking to him. He was arrested while walking away from the person and toward his car, Marks said.
The trial, which is expected to last about four days, resumes Wednesday, when the government will continue questioning its first witness, FBI agent Applin.