After more than 80 child predator arrests in North Georgia in the last two years, an Atlanta attorney is questioning law enforcement's tactics, calling the incidents the product of "rogue" law enforcement and the need to "create" crime instead of fight it.
Almost all arrests have come as the result of people who legally troll the popular website Craigslist in search of "casual encounters" with adults, attorney McNeill Stokes says. The people are then slapped with bait-and-switch tactics that cause otherwise law-abiding citizens to be accused of sex crimes against minors, he said.
Mr. Stokes likened the prosecutions to that of local ex-school teacher Tonya Craft, who was acquitted Tuesday of 22 charges involving child molestation in the same jurisdiction. He said the prosecutions are a zealous attempt to put away alleged sex offenders without regard for the law or the facts of the cases.
"These investigations are like a cancer running through North Georgia and are ruining people's lives," Mr. Stokes said Wednesday after he failed to convince Catoosa County Superior Court Judge Brian House, the same judge in the Tonya Craft case, to grant his client a new trial.
Mr. Stokes' client, William Glenn Logan of Chattanooga, received from Judge House what he said was one of the harshest sentences he ever has seen for someone who never actually came in contact with a child -- 20 years in a Georgia state prison. A Catoosa County, Ga., Superior Court jury in September convicted Mr. Logan of one count of enticement of a fictitious minor by computer and one count of attempt to commit aggravated child molestation.
The prosecution had offered Mr. Logan five years under a plea deal, but Mr. Logan elected to go to trial instead. On Wednesday, Mr. Stokes accused Judge House of sentencing his client to three times the offered deal just for trying to defend himself, a statement that Judge House said "offended" him.
The judge said he sentenced Mr. Logan according to state sentencing guidelines only.
Ms. Craft's defense attorneys on Wednesday confirmed that they are looking into whether any judicial misconduct had occurred during the trial.
Mr. Logan's sister, Joanna Miles, wiped away tears just outside the Ringgold, Ga., courtroom Wednesday before the hearing, saying she understands that people would be skeptical of a family member who insists her brother is innocent.
"I didn't go to the trial in September because I didn't think there was any way he would be convicted," Ms. Miles said. "Before this, I could never believe that something like this could happen."
According to court documents, Mr. Logan and his attorney claim local members of an FBI task force posed as a 19-year-old girl who had posted an ad on Craigslist looking for a man. Mr. Logan communicated with her, he claims, until the girl confessed she was only 14 years old.
"Then the girl started harassing him and wouldn't leave him alone, even though he told her he didn't want anything to do with her," Ms. Miles said.
"When she told him she was going to meet another man instead, he went to meet her that night to try and save her," Ms. Miles explained. "He drove past (a park in Ringgold, Ga.) and they arrested him before he even got out of the car."
According to Georgia law, a person cannot be guilty of a crime if, by entrapment, "his conduct is induced or solicited by a government officer." The law specifies that a crime cannot be prosecuted if an officer "induced the accused to commit the act which the accused would not have committed except for the conduct of such officer."
But law enforcement can and routinely does conduct investigations legally by inserting themselves into crimes they believe would take place regardless of an officer's involvement.
Detective Dave Scroggins of the Rossville, Ga., police department, one of the local leaders of the FBI task force, said Wednesday the only thing that went wrong with Mr. Logan's case is that "he should have gotten 40 years in prison instead of 20."
In defending the Craigslist investigations, Detective Scroggins said Mr. Logan, 35, is a pedophile who "absolutely knew" that the person he was communicating with claimed to be 14 years old.
"Craigslist is a magnet for perverts," Detective Scroggins said. "Had (Mr. Logan) not been coming to meet us, he would have been coming to meet a real girl."
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