Naughton: The American dream turned sour, Part X

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

See also Part IX.

One juror who voted to convict said she was swayed by Naughton's choice of chatrooms and the fact that he had rented a car. "If he had wanted an older woman, he would have been in an older woman chatroom," she said. "He wasn't in the 'old maid and old farts' chatroom." The juror also didn't like the way Naughton shrank back in his seat as the prosecutor cross-examined him. "I can't imagine why a man who was so smart and so rich was so stupid," she said.

Greenfield, the psychologist, holds the immense success of Internet enterprises responsible for scenarios like the one that brought down Patrick Naughton. Young technologists showered with fame and fortune face problems similar to those encountered by rock stars and actors, he said: "It can create a sense of invulnerability. Of course, that's an illusion." As a result, Greenfield said, those who aren't grounded may use drugs or engage in unusual sexual activities.

Janetti Marotta, a psychologist who has practiced in Silicon Valley for more than a decade, said the culture of the new economy, which rewards people for testing boundaries and challenging the status quo, may influence those who are operating in that culture. For some, the urge to push the limits in their work spills over into their personal lives, leading to adultery or bizarre sexual behaviour. "I see so many people pushing boundaries in ways that are destructive," Marotta said.

Meanwhile, Naughton's legal battles are far from over. He heads back to court on 21 March to be tried by a new jury. Why? Because he was saved by the bell. Or, more precisely, by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which only days after his conviction handed down a ruling that overturned parts of the Child Pornography Prevention Act -- specifically, those parts of the law that made it illegal to possess illicit pictures of children who "appear to be" minors. At the same time, Donahue had already announced plans to retry Naughton on the unresolved charges, in effect winding the clock back to 7 December last year, when the first trial started.

Naughton's defenders have said they welcome the second trial as an opportunity to clarify issues that they think have been distorted by an overzealous legal system. James Naughton, for example, calls the chat correspondence "nonsensical chatter" and "odd entertainment", rather than proof that Patrick intended to have sex with a young girl. "The United States," he said, "should be spending our tax dollars on more efficient and accurate ways of ferreting out true criminals, rather than entrapping and harassing law abiding citizens like my brother."

The FBI, for its part, continues to insist that Naughton knowingly and willingly pursued KrisLA through a dense thicket of disclaimers and obstacles -- that he, in other words, went to great lengths to arrange a meeting with a partner he believed to be 13 years old. So where does all this leave Patrick Naughton? As before, perched precariously on the fence between fantasy and reality. And Naughton's not the only one.

The conversations continue online, in chatrooms where real identity is blurry and pseudonyms unstable; between men and other men pretending to be women, between children pretending to be adults, between guilty men pretending to be innocents and innocents just pretending.

After this story went to press, Patrick Naughton entered a guilty plea to the charge of crossing state lines to solcit sex with a minor. The other two charges have been dropped as part of a plea agreement.

See also The trial of Patrick Naughton

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