Naughton: The American dream turned sour, Part III

From all outside appearances, Patrick Naughton seemed the personification of the American dream

See also Part II.

"Patrick?" she said, giggling in a high-pitched, breathy voice as he approached. "Hey," he replied.

They greeted each other awkwardly. He asked her if she wanted to walk on the beach; she said she did. He then turned and walked in the opposite direction. Looking over his shoulder, he pointed out a set of stairs behind him. "You go that way," he told her. During their online chat when they had arranged the meeting, Naughton had said that she should follow him out of the crowd and that they would meet up later, because people would think it strange to see a 34-year-old man walking with a 13-year-old girl.

Instead of heading down to the beach, KrisLA spoke into the microphone strapped to her body. "That was him," she said. A flurry of undercover cops sprang into action, converging on Naughton from the corners of the pier. Weapons drawn, they forced him to his knees.

It wasn't until he had been brought to a substation on the pier -- a shanty that looks more like a fishing shack than a police precinct house -- that Naughton learned KrisLA wasn't a young girl at all. The person he had greeted earlier was, in fact, 27-year-old Amber Braaten, a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy and an FBI decoy. The months of sexually explicit chatroom banter hadn't involved a 13-year-old girl, either -- or even a woman, for that matter: Naughton had spent the previous six months typing to a sandy-haired, goateed FBI agent named Bruce Applin. A former Marine, Applin is a member of the Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement team (SAFE), an undercover task force that patrols chatrooms looking for criminals.

Following Naughton's arrest, agents examined his computer. On it they found hundreds of images -- among them, several that the federal grand jury indictment labelled "child pornography". Ultimately, he was charged in federal court on three counts -- travelling across state lines to solicit sex with a minor, using the Internet to arrange the meeting and possessing child pornography.

During the trial, Naughton's defence attorneys would claim that he never thought KrisLA was only 13 -- an assertion many jurors believed. It was a new defence tactic made possible by the Internet, a virtual playground where anyone can conceal his identity with a keyboard and computer screen. After all, it's hard to argue that someone lurking around an elementary school doesn't know he's dealing with minors. But a person chatting online with someone claiming to be a 23-year-old woman may really be conversing with a 70-year-old man. That concept would form the core of Naughton's denial in court -- a strategy that would become known as the "fantasy defence".

See also Part IV.

See also The trial of Patrick Naughton

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