Appellate victor loses

Sex-case defendant is sentenced in federal court


Richard J. Moore created legal history when he successfully challenged a state law, arguing that a sex offender could not be convicted for soliciting an undercover officer masquerading as a young girl on the Internet.

Yesterday, the Howard County man paid a heavy price for his appellate victory.

Federal prosecutors took over the case, and a judge sentenced Moore to serve nearly 2 1/2 years in prison for traveling across state lines to have sex with a minor in July 2002.

Moore, 39, of Elkridge had been convicted of solicitation charges in Frederick County Circuit Court in 2002 but he was sentenced to time already served in prison. He nonetheless appealed, arguing that state law required a real victim; he had been chatting on the Internet with a sheriff's deputy posing as an underage girl.

State legislators -- acting before the court issued its ruling -- changed the state law in 2004 to specifically allow for such law enforcement sting operations.

Maryland Court of Appeals overturned Moore's conviction, saying that the old state statute was improper because the "victim" in the case was no victim at all. The 2004 change in the law did not affect his case.

So federal prosecutors took over the case and charged him with a new federal crime. Moore pleaded guilty to the charge in February.

Moore and his attorney, Christine Boco Gage-Cohen, declined to comment on the case after the hearing.

U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg said in court yesterday that he would not sentence Moore to home confinement. Instead, Legg said, Moore deserved to be sentenced at the low end of the recommended sentencing guidelines -- between 33 to 41 months in prison.

Legg gave Moore credit for the four months he spent in prison. He also required Moore to register as a sex offender when he is released from prison, but that order could be modified by a federal probation officer during Moore's two years of supervised release.

In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Norman argued that Moore's offense was a crime of violence, typical of the kind of sex offense investigators have found on the Internet.

Norman said that under current law, the recommended sentencing guidelines for Moore would have been much harsher, carrying a mandatory minimum prison term of five years.

But Gage-Cohen countered that Moore had no idea when he decided to appeal his state conviction that he would prompt state officials to seek out federal prosecutors.

Moore addressed the judge toward the end of the 90-minute hearing, standing in front of a half-dozen members of his family and friends.

"I assure you it was an aberration," he told Legg, his voice breaking slightly. He described his life since, a sorrowful life of divorce, job loss and banishment from the ability to parent his two sons.

"What I did was incredibly wrong," Moore said, adding that as a 9-year-old he was sexually abused.

Still, he said, "I have no one to blame but myself."

Legg declined to impose a sentence below the recommended sentencing guidelines.

"This is a very serious societal problem," Legg said. "It's also a very serious crime." A stiff sentence for Moore, he added, would show others that federal courts treat sex offenders harshly, whether or not there was a "real" victim involved.

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