Naughton: The American dream turned sour, Part IX

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

See also Part VIII.

The prosecution claimed that it was certain Naughton had viewed the pictures, because the "access date" listed on his computer for each image was different from the one on which they were sent to him. After the prosecution finished presenting its arguments, it was time for the defence's star witness: Naughton himself. Defendants don't usually take the stand in cases like this, but Naughton's attorneys decided that their client -- a well-spoken tech wizard eminently qualified to demystify the wild world of chatrooms -- would certainly not hurt his own case.

Calm and poised, Naughton explained, matter of factly, how he had sought refuge in chatrooms to relieve the stress of a high pressure job that included long days and lonely nights on the road. He chose the "dad&daughtersex" chatroom, he said, because it was busy enough to keep the conversation going, but not so crowded as to be annoying. Naughton said he would send private messages to several people at a time, then strike up discussions with those who responded. Sometimes he talked dirty or said he was "serious", because he wanted to keep the fantasy alive. He talked about "meeting" KrisLA to heighten the excitement of the exchange.

Naughton said he gave KrisLA his real name and phone number because he had nothing to hide and because he needed to shore up his self-image. "I'm just sort of looking for approval," he admitted on the stand. Moreover, he testified, people never know when they'll come across someone they'll connect with: "It's always in the back of your mind that you might meet some interesting adult woman." For example, Naughton added, he thought KrisLA might be "a nice, confused 40-year-old woman from Encino."

The one thing he was sure of, Naughton said, was that people could never be sure whom they were talking to in chatrooms, noting that he had once witnessed a 40-year-old man posing as a dominatrix. KrisLA gave him several hints that "she" wasn't a teen, Naughton recalled, including witty banter and adult references that included asking him if he was Ted Bundy.

As for the actual meeting on the pier, Naughton told the court that when he turned around after greeting Braaten, he was planning to walk to his car -- not toward a liaison on the beach -- because she looked so young. "I decided at that point to try to get away from her," he said.

Naughton's attorneys argued that the relationship was hardly a "hot romance", pointing out that the pair went for months without speaking and that Naughton sometimes would mix up KrisLA with other chatroom partners. "Sorry, this is so virtual," Naughton typed, apologising to KrisLA when he didn't remember her. Once, he asked if they had planned to go to the zoo together, even though they had never discussed going there.

Finally, Naughton denied ever seeing the images of child pornography found on his computer. They were there, he said, because he had turned on a feature that allowed him to automatically receive any picture sent by a chatroom participant. In a highly technical and somewhat confusing presentation, the defence tried to show jurors that, furthermore, the access dates could be changed not only by viewing the images, but also by simply scrolling down a listing of them.

The defence also presented a psychologist who said that, based on his observations, Naughton wasn't predisposed to paedophilia. During a series of rapid-fire questions on cross-examination, Donahue pointed out that Naughton had rented a car in LA, even though he usually took taxis or hired cars when there, and that he had called a hotel near the pier to ask about room availability, even though he had reservations at the Mondrian. She argued that the line between fantasy and crime is a distinct one. "If he had just stayed behind his keyboard and typed sex fantasies and not done anything else," she told the jurors, "we wouldn't be here."

The jury's deliberations lasted nearly four days -- as long as the trial itself. When US District Court Judge Edward Rafeedie called the panel back into the courtroom, Naughton leaned forward with forearms and elbows on the table, his fingers entwined.

Jury foreman Stevie Brown told Judge Rafeedie that the panel wasn't able to reach a verdict on the first two counts. It was nearly split down the middle: 7-5 in favour of convicting Naughton of travelling to meet a minor and 6-5 (with one undecided) in favour of convicting him of using the Internet to set up the meeting. Judge Rafeedie declared a mistrial on those counts.

That left the child pornography charge. On this, the jury found him guilty. After the conviction, Naughton's attorneys scrambled to convince the judge that he should remain free on bail until his sentencing, scheduled for 6 March. Judge Rafeedie left it up to the prosecutor, saying that Naughton could remain free if Donahue didn't consider him a flight risk or danger to society. Donahue urged the judge to remand him to custody, and the judge complied.

Although he had been spared the worst, at this point Naughton began to lose his composure, clenching his jaw and blinking repeatedly. He shook his lawyers' hands, gave his keys and belt to his brother James, took off his tie and put it on the table. He was then escorted out of the courtroom, flanked by US Marshals.

Outside the courtroom, Naughton's attorneys vowed to appeal the conviction. "We are very gratified" that many jurors didn't think Naughton had actually planned to have sex with a minor, Marks said. The jury's deliberations, it turned out, were exactly what Naughton's attorneys had hoped they would be: highly contentious. Although the panel had decided relatively quickly to convict on the pornography charge, discussions on the other counts escalated at times into a shouting match. The meeting with Braaten left too many questions unanswered for some jurors, who dug in their heels and refused to convict. Brown, the jury foreman, felt the FBI agents had arrested Naughton before ascertaining his intent. "They screwed up," says Brown, who has a 12-year-old daughter.

See also Part X.

See also The trial of Patrick Naughton

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