Former Balto. County man pleads guilty in Internet solicitation case

February 01, 2003|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

A former Baltimore County man accused of using the Internet to arrange a sexual liaison with what he believed was a 14-year-old boy pleaded guilty to solicitation of a minor yesterday and received a probationary term.

Robert Brandon Valentine, 32, opted to accept the plea arrangement offered by Howard County prosecutors, which recommended no jail time, rather than join the fight over the validity of Maryland laws used to charge defendants caught in online stings involving fictitious victims.

Valentine was trading e-mails in 2001 with a Maryland State Police investigator posing as "Chris," a 14-year-old boy who was "looking for a friend to understand my feelings."

Defense lawyers across the state have argued that defendants like Valentine could not have committed a crime because there was no minor - only an adult - on the other end of the keyboard.

Valentine's lawyer, Brian G. Thompson, said that the no-jail assurance and concerns that that case would be picked up by the U.S. attorney's office led to yesterday's court action, even though Valentine maintains that he was only playing a part and never intended to have sex with a minor.

"I believe he has learned a painful lesson," Thompson told Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley before sentencing.

Dudley imposed a six-month suspended term and placed Valentine on three years' supervised probation.

Valentine, who was living in Rosedale but has since moved to San Jose, Calif., was arrested Sept. 19, 2001, after he pulled into Centennial Park near Columbia, the site of a meeting he and "Chris" had set up.

The two had been exchanging e-mails for three weeks, and the conversations had "sexual overtones," Assistant State's Attorney Jim Dietrich told Dudley.

The prosecutor said yesterday that Valentine admitted to investigators that he planned to have sex with a minor, but Thompson said his client "maintains that he believed this was more of a role-playing thing."

Valentine apologized. "I assure that nothing like this will ever happen again," he said.

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