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Guilty to Electronic Solicitation

Bryant Frederick O'Neill was born June 3, 1945 — before the end of WWII — but for some apparent reason, he truly believed a 13-year-old girl would be interested in having sexual relations with him.

HOWEVER, he wasn't completely honest with her. When he corresponded with the teen online, he said he was 40 years old. But in the end, he learned the hard way that she hadn't been truthful with him, either.

The object of his affection was really Det. Lewis Barrickman, a male detective with the Fairfax County Police Department's Child Exploitation Unit. And when O'Neill, 59, of Route 2, Box 820, in Harper's Ferry, W. Va., showed up for a meeting with "her," last July, in Centreville, he was busted.

Last Tuesday, Jan. 4, in Circuit Court, he pleaded guilty to electronic solicitation of a minor. And when he's sentenced in April, he could be placed behind bars for as long as a decade. He entered his plea before Judge Kathleen MacKay and, before accepting it, she asked him some questions.

"Are you entering your plea freely and voluntarily and because you are, in fact, guilty of the crime as charged?" she asked. "Yes, ma'am," replied O'Neill. "Do you understand that, by pleading guilty, you lose your right to a trial by jury and to confront any witnesses against you?" she asked. Again, he answered in the affirmative.

AFTER MACKAY accepted his plea, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney John Murphy called Barrickman to the stand. While working in an undercover capacity, he said, he set up a profile identifying himself as a 13-year-old Centreville girl. Then, on Nov. 19, 2001, someone claiming to be a 40-year-old man contacted him.

"At first, he said he was from Reston," said Barrickman. "Later, he said he'd moved to Harpers Ferry." The detective said O'Neill suggested they meet and engage in oral sodomy. The day of the meeting, July 1, 2004, O'Neill instant-messaged Barrickman and called it off. Then, said the detective, "A person who identified himself as Rick called about 1 p.m. and said, 'Hey, we could meet; I'm down here.'"

At their shopping-center meeting place, said Barrickman, "I walked up on the passenger side [of his vehicle] and said, 'Hi, Rick,' and he said, 'Yes?' I asked him what he was doing, and he said, 'Shopping for furniture.' I said, 'Are you sure you're not here to meet someone?' He admitted he was here to meet a person he believed was 13 years old, for oral sodomy."

Later, in Barrickman's office on July 7, said the detective, O'Neill "admitted he was the person I'd been communicating with online, all these years. He solicited me on a couple of occasions, over a three-year period. When I began, I was '12,' but on the day I met him, I was '13.'" He said O'Neill apparently didn't calculate that the "girl" should have been 15 by the time they met.

On his client's behalf, defense attorney Lance Gardner said O'Neill "would say he didn't make the solicitation until the end." But, acknowledged Gardner, "He did make the solicitation that led to their meeting."

JUDGE MACKAY then found O'Neill guilty as charged and set his sentencing for April 1. After police had arrested him in July and charged him with using a communications system to facilitate certain offenses involving children, he was released on $2,000 bond.

But now that he was convicted, Murphy argued that he should not remain free until his sentencing. Referring to O'Neill's age, Murphy said, "Your Honor, despite appearances, he's still a predator."

Gardner, however, said there was no reason to believe that O'Neill's crime was more than an "isolated event." Said Gardner: "This is not something he's actively pursued, to any great degree. He is under psychiatric care with a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and I would like them to continue their evaluation."

"But he's now a convicted felon and is not the same status he was [before]," said Murphy. Agreeing, MacKay told O'Neill, "You're remanded to the custody of the sheriff." And with that, he was handcuffed by the bailiff and led away to jail.