Attorney given 10-month sentence in on-line sex case Man is 1st charged under 'Innocent Images' probe

February 06, 1996|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

A government patent attorney, who was the first person arrested under a 1994 federal law that prohibits crossing state lines to have sex with a minor, received a 10-month sentence yesterday.

In April, after days of sexually explicit computer conversations pTC with someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl, James Frederic Childress traveled from his home in Virginia for a meeting with the teen at Montgomery Mall. Instead, he was met by a team of FBI agents that included Patricia Ferrante, the agent who had posed as his computer pen pal.

Childress was among the first people arrested as a result of the FBI's Operation Innocent Images, a nationwide crackdown on computer child pornography crimes.

A jury convicted Childress six months later on one count of interstate travel to engage in sex with a minor. Childress, 32, is a former Columbia resident who lives in Arlington, Va.

The criminal conviction has left him on unpaid suspension from his job with the patent office of the Department of Commerce.

Lawyers for Childress plan to challenge the government's interpretation of the law on technical grounds, saying that to be convicted, Childress must have engaged in an actual sex act and intended to kill the victim.

U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow stayed the sentence pending appeal.

John Cline, a lawyer for Childress, emphasized that years of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders contributed to his client's actions.

During his trial, Childress testified of his difficulty interacting with people his age, and said the girls he contacted provided a source of friendship. He said he had no intention of engaging in sex with them, despite the sexually explicit electronic conversations.

"He detailed what kind of sexual acts he would engage in," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Deborah A. Johnston. "Not just touching -- intercourse."

The jury convicted him of one count of traveling across state lines to engage in sex with a minor.

Yesterday, the judge said she agreed with the conclusion that Childress had intended to pursue a sexual relationship.

"Mr. Childress' phobias led him to seek out those he thought were safer," she said. It was "but a matter of time" before he took the relationships further, she added.

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 18 to 24 months. But Judge Chasanow chose to be more lenient in light of Childress' psychiatric problems, although she rejected defense lawyers' appeals for probation, saying Childress' disorders were not wholly responsible for his behavior.

Five months of the sentence will be served in prison, the other five in a home detention program, followed by three years of supervised release. Judge Chasanow also ordered Childress to pay a $5,000 fine, continue psychiatric treatment and refrain from using computer on-line services.

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