Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Internet predator law handed 'victory'

The South Carolina Supreme Court's decision Monday in the case of a Travelers Rest man convicted of soliciting minors over the Internet will strengthen the state's law aimed at catching Internet predators, a spokesman for State Attorney General Henry McMaster said.

The ruling, the first to consider an appeal of South Carolina's Internet soliciting law after 140 arrests, upheld the conviction of William H. Gaines Jr. of Travelers Rest, accused by police of using Web chat rooms to try to lure teenage girls to have sex, court records show.

"We see this as a tremendous victory for state law," said Mark Plowden, a spokesman for McMaster. "That law has now been strengthened because it's been upheld."

Gaines was convicted of three counts of criminal solicitation of a minor and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, according to court records, suspended to four years in prison and five years' probation on each count.

Gaines gave statements to police, according to the Supreme Court opinion, admitting that he had contacted girls on the Internet. But he said he was "just talking" with them, according to the opinion.

Neither he nor his appellate lawyers could be reached for comment Monday.

Justices denied that Gaines was entitled to an entrapment defense, ruling that the South Carolina officer's beginning the chat by saying "Hey" did not constitute entrapment.

"The initial contact merely afforded Gaines the opportunity to solicit sex," Justice John Waller wrote. "Gaines was in no way induced to commit the crime of criminal solicitation of a minor."

According to Monday's ruling, Gaines engaged in conversation in an Internet chat room in early 2004 with someone he believed to be a 12-year-old girl in Philadelphia.

He encouraged the person, according to the opinion, to travel to Greenville, where he planned to rent a hotel room. In fact, according to the opinion, the person was a Pennsylvania undercover detective, who referred the case to South Carolina authorities.

In October of that year, according to the opinion, South Carolina police established a screen name, pretending to be a 13-year-old girl whom Gaines contacted in a chat room later that year.

Gaines argued in his appeal that his earlier talk with the Pennsylvania police shouldn't have been admitted as evidence because South Carolina didn't pass its Internet solicitation law until June of 2004. The justices disagreed, saying that soliciting a minor prior to June was still a crime in Pennsylvania.

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