In Schlesselman v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s convictions for attempted child molestation and computer exploitation of a child stemming from the defendant’s arrest in a Georgia internet sex sting operation.
Using a website called Motherless.com, the defendant contacted a person he believed to be a 39 year-old single mother who was trying to make money with the help of her daughter. The 39 year-old woman was actually an Effingham County Sheriff’s investigator posing online as part of an internet sting operation.
The defendant initially asked if he could meet with the “mother” but then agreed to pay for a night with the 14 year-old daughter after being told that the mother was now in a relationship. The investigator arranged to meet the defendant at a gas station for purposes of arranging sex with the daughter.
The defendant was apprehended while he was waiting at the gas station. While conducting a search incident to arrest, the officers found a cell phone which contained text messages relating to the meeting as well as a recent internet search for “internet underage sex stings in Georgia.”
With respect to the attempted child molestation charge, the Court of Appeals held that although the evidence was circumstantial, the defendant’s communications with the investigator were sufficient to authorize a jury to conclude that he had the necessary intent to engage in illegal sexual acts with a 14 year-old girl. Thus, his conduct was sufficient to constitute a substantial step towards committing that offense.
With respect to the computer exploitation offense, the Court noted that direct communication between the defendant and the child is not required in order to prove that the defendant solicited the child. Citing to the Georgia Supreme Court’s recent decision in State v. Cosmo, the Court held that “a solicitation of another may be made by communication with a third party.” The Court analogized the defendant’s contact with this child’s purported mother to communication between a third-party pimp and a customer in the context of soliciting a prostitute, which would similarly be considered solicitation in the criminal context.
The Court, quoting Black’s Law Dictionary, noted that the term “solicit” means “to command, authorize, urge, incite, request, or advise another to commit a crime.” Thus, the jury was authorized to find that, through email communications with the investigator, the defendant urged and requested a person he believed to be a 14 year-old girl to engage in immoral or indecent acts.
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