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Disney exec found guilty in pedo sting

'A bit of harmless role-playing gone terribly wrong...'

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Former Disney exec and Java creator Patrick Naughton was found guilty of child porn possession at trial Thursday, but the jury hung on the more serious charge of crossing state lines to have sex with a minor.

Seattle resident Naughton was arrested on 15 September in Santa Monica, California where he had arranged to meet a contact from the dad&daughtersex chat room. The person waiting for him turned out to be not the thirteen-year-old girl he'd been expecting, but a female Los Angeles County deputy.

Naughton's chat partner had actually been a male FBI agent named Bruce Applin. According to an affidavit, agent Applin repeatedly warned Naughton that he was a thirteen-year old girl, and offered him several chances to back out of the rendezvous.

Naughton's lawyer, Donald Marks, used a defence emphasising the anonymous nature of Internet chat, and took it as a promising sign that the jury was unable to agree on whether or not Naughton had actually travelled to meet a young girl when all he really knew of her was text on a screen. "A lot of people do not believe that...having sexual talk with unknown persons of unknown genders and ages on the Internet represents anything but role-playing," Marks pointed out.

Naughton himself testified that he had no idea who his chat partner really was. A clever appeal, as the element of doubt arising from chat room anonymity was sufficient to deadlock the jury.

The government must now decide whether or not to re-file the charges related to interstate travel, which it must do by 5 January or not at all. If it declines to re-try Naughton, or if the second jury acquits him or hangs, it may spell trouble for law-enforcement agents who wish to pursue in real life what starts as purely anonymous interaction on the Net. We'll be watching this one. ®

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