After sentencing a 46-year-old Manassas man, last week, for soliciting sex from a minor over the Internet, Judge Stanley Klein told him why he was going to jail.
"It's important for word to go out on the street that [behavior like this] won't be tolerated," he said. "I couldn't just give you probation and let you go home today."
The man, Rodney Ian Butler of 10100 Brandon Way, is himself the father of two daughters. And although the teen-aged girl he thought he'd be meeting in Centreville for sex turned out to be an undercover detective, he received three months behind bars.
Last Friday, March 18, in Fairfax County Circuit Court, defense attorney Thomas Walsh said his client has already attended 12 sessions of sex-offender counseling at the Augustus Institute. Then Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kathy Stott presented details of the case. She said the detective who nabbed Butler was L.C. Barrickman of the police department's Child Exploitation Unit.
"THE DEFENDANT sent sexually explicit messages over the Internet to someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl," she explained. "He arranged a meeting, went to the location, got nervous and left. He and Barrickman chatted online afterward, and the defendant went back to that location — determined to have that meeting and intending to carry out what he said he wanted to do, on the Internet."
Stott didn't offer any examples, but police said Butler's interest in the young "teen" was definitely sexual. "There was no 13-year-old girl that I can show a picture of," Stott told the judge. "But anyone could have been a victim of his actions. The whole purpose of the undercover operation is to root out and find sexual predators before they [perpetrate their crimes] on real victims."
Saying it's lucky that Butler wasn't communicating with an actual teen-ager, she noted that 10 years is the maximum punishment he could receive for this crime. She then urged Klein to give him that amount of time and suspend a great deal of it to hold over his head.
That way, said Stott, "He knows we're watching him, that he's on a tight leash and — should he step out of line — [there'll be consequences to pay]." She also recommended some period of incarceration and said Butler should be ordered to continue with his sex-offender treatment.
Police said he and the "girl" had been exchanging e-mails for less than a week when he arranged a tryst between them for July 28. But Walsh said that, according to his notes, when Butler didn't initially show up, Barrickman "immediately went back online and asked him why he didn't meet him."
AFTER BUTLER returned to the meeting place in Centreville, around 5:30 p.m., police apprehended him. He was charged with using a communications system to facilitate certain offenses involving children. The grand jury indicted him on Nov. 15; then on January 3, he pleaded guilty in Circuit Court before Judge Klein.
Friday, regarding Butler's assessment and counseling at the Augustus Institute, Walsh said tests there showed that children don't sexually arouse his client. Added the attorney: "He also took a polygraph test confirming it was an isolated incident — a terrible mistake of judgment."
Walsh said Butler has no previous criminal record, is 46 and, prior to this offense, "has led a straight and narrow life." He said Butler feels remorse and guilt about what happened and "has taken responsibility for what he did."
Pointing toward several people seated in the front row of the courtroom, Walsh said Butler has support from a wide range of people — including parents and friends who respect him — and his children trust and rely on him.
"I don't know what went wrong here," said the attorney. "I don't think any incarceration is called for. He's already suffered a great deal. He lost a job of 24 years as a courier at Federal Express, and he's been incarcerated since Jan. 3 when he pleaded guilty and his bond was revoked."
Walsh said the whole ordeal "has placed a strain on [Butler's] family and his two daughters — one of whom wrote an eloquent letter on his behalf." And after Butler was arrested, said Walsh, "He told Barrickman, 'I messed up; I don't know what I was thinking.'" He then asked Klein to place Butler on probation and order him to keep going to the Augustus Institute.
Given the opportunity to address the court before being sentenced, Butler stood and said his piece. "I made a huge mistake, and I'm embarrassed and ashamed," he said. "I want to apologize to my family and friends — and especially to my daughters. My youngest one is having a tough time dealing with it. I would like to continue with Augustus to [change] my behavior so I can [go] on with my life and be a productive citizen."
THEN IT was Klein's turn. "You have no prior involvement with the criminal-justice system, and I don't think you're going to reoffend," he told Butler. "But I agree with Ms. Stott that you need to understand that somebody's watching you, so no children will be injured. The reason the police set up these stings is that they don't know which predators will sexually attack children."
The judge then sentenced Butler to seven years in prison, suspending all but three months. He also placed him on three years active probation and ordered him to undergo sex-offender treatment and mental-health counseling "so you'll understand why someone of your background would do something like this."
Reminding Butler that he'll have to register and re-register as a sex offender, Klein added: "I hope your incarceration leaves an indelible message with you about what it's like so that we won't see you back in court again, after today."