Sex-arrest case spills into family court

After his conviction is overturned, man caught in online sting fights for the right to visit with his children

October 04, 2005|By RONA MARECH | RONA MARECH,SUN REPORTER

When Richard Joseph Moore's convictions for soliciting sex with a minor and attempted third-degree sex offense were overturned in the Maryland Court of Appeals last month, the matter seemed closed.

He was off the hook on the grounds that there was no "victim" since he had solicited sex from an undercover state trooper rather than an actual minor. His former wife, Heather Moore, who divorced him during the proceedings, had been granted custody of their two young sons and moved from their Elkridge home to Virginia.

The case prompted Maryland legislators to change the law, making it legal for police officers posing as minors to catch sexual predators in sting operations.

But now Richard Moore is headed back to court in Virginia, where he is seeking the right to visit his sons. His lawyer is arguing that testimony or evidence from the criminal trial cannot be introduced in the civil case because he was acquitted of all charges. The hearings will take place Oct. 14 and Oct. 17.

"I see no reason why he should not be able to see his children," said Moore's lawyer, Atchuthan Sriskandarajah. "At this point, all we have is a man who was accused of a crime and acquitted of a crime. To use that accusation is inappropriate."

Heather Moore, 28, said her ex-husband is seeking to spend a week in the summer and one weekend a month with their children.

"I don't want him to ever see these kids," she said. "All I ever hear from anyone is that he has rights. I'm so tired of his rights, his rights. We have done nothing."

Heather Moore, who lives near her parents and works as a financial specialist, said she has managed, despite the events of the past three years, to give her children a "normal life" and doesn't want that undermined by paternal visits. Her youngest son, now 4, essentially has never known his father, she said.

"How will it benefit my kids to know this man in this way?" she said. "I'm very scared about what's going to happen. ... I don't have any faith in the system at all."

Legal experts say that Richard Moore's attempt to keep all the information from the first case out of the civil proceedings is unlikely to succeed.

"Because he was acquitted doesn't make that information off-limits. Whatever those facts are remain those facts," said Andrew D. Levy, a trial lawyer and adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland School of Law.

In a custody or visitation-rights case, the standard - the best interest of the child - is very different from the standard in a criminal case, he said.

"The judge is allowed to consider a very wide range of things," Levy said. "He can't say to the judge, `You can't consider the evidence because I was acquitted of a criminal charge.'"

Charlie Smith, the Frederick County prosecutor in the original case, described it this way: "There are plenty of things people do that bear on whether they're a good parent that don't rise to the level of criminal activity."

Moore pleaded not guilty in the criminal case, but waived his right to a full trial, instead allowing prosecutors to lay out an agreed statement of facts about what happened.

According to that account, Moore engaged in a sexually explicit online conversation with an undercover police officer who posed as a 14-year-old girl. He arranged to meet the supposed teenager and a friend for sex but was arrested when he arrived at the predetermined location in Frederick.

Even if a judge allows that information into the family courtroom, it's unclear what the outcome of the hearing would be.

Smith rejects the argument that Moore is entitled to see his children.

"That's ridiculous," he said. "Anyone who has the intent to have sex with minors shouldn't have visitation rights. He's a threat to children. Just because he was able to get off on a legal technicality makes him no less a threat to children."

However, Jana Singer, a professor at the University of Maryland law school who specializes in family law, said that while Maryland has a strong child-protection policy, Moore "probably does have a reasonable argument if he can convince the court that he doesn't pose a risk to the children; that his behavior didn't and wouldn't harm them." The court might consider granting him supervised visits, she said.

But if Smith, the prosecutor, has his way, visitation rights won't do Moore any good anyway. Immediately after the Court of Appeals' ruling, Smith forwarded the case to the U.S. attorney's office. Because Moore is accused of crossing a state line - from Virginia, where he worked, to Maryland - to meet the undercover police officer, federal prosecutors have the option of pursuing the case. They are not subject to the same rules about sting operations that Maryland had before the law changed here.

"They are currently considering whether they will prosecute," Smith said. "So this guy might go to jail one way or another."

rona.marech@baltsun.com

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