Naughton has lost his job as an executive in Walt Disney Co.'s Internet empire and his .4-million Seattle house since his arrest three months ago on charges of using the Net to solicit sex from a minor. Naughton's defense centers on the premise that the Internet is a massive masquerade ball, and that he never expected to meet a minor in the sex-themed chat rooms he frequented.But he is mounting an unusual legal defense to make sure that he does not also lose his trial, which is scheduled to begin Tuesday in U. But prosecutors say he corresponded for months with an undercover FBI agent posing as a 13-year-old girl in a chat room devoted to adult men with sexual fetishes about underage females.
"This is what the Internet is all about--it's a virtual world of fantasy."It's a novel defense, and if it prevails, it would punch a significant hole in what has been an almost foolproof sting technique for the FBI, which claims a 99% conviction rate in hundreds of similar cases.
But legal experts say that Naughton's strategy is as uncertain as it is original."The premise of the argument is accurate," said Peter Arenella, a former defense attorney and a law professor at UCLA.
"Many people do use chat rooms for pure fantasy and lie constantly about everything."But I think it's going to be a tough sell.
The problem is that he engaged in more than fantasy life on the Net.
FBI agents say they found hundreds of pornographic images on the laptop computer he brought with him to Santa Monica, including at least nine that authorities consider child pornography.
Naughton's attorneys said they will try to deflect that charge by arguing that the images may have been placed on Naughton's computer without his knowledge. at any moment in time you could be arrested and charged with [possession of] child pornography."That is technically accurate, but legal experts said it may be difficult to convince a jury that Naughton--a technology whiz--would be careless or clumsy enough to keep such illegal material on his laptop.Because of the technological workings of Internet chat rooms, Marks said last week, "it's possible you receive images even if you don't want them.""Unless you're deleting them . Overall, Naughton faces three felony counts, including possession of child porn and engaging in interstate travel with intent to have sex with a minor. Naughton was part of the team at Sun Microsystems Inc. He went on to hold senior positions at Starwave Corp.He went to Santa Monica to meet a human being."Naughton's lawyers say that, if anything, he expected to meet an adult at the pier that evening, and that it is common for adults to lie about their gender and age in sex chat rooms.But prosecutors say that during months of online correspondence, Naughton gave every indication that he was serious about setting up a sexual encounter with a minor.According to transcripts of online conversations, Naughton, 34, told undercover agents posing as teen girls that "he was not pretending at all," and that he had "been with" teenage girls before.Naughton, who went by the screen name "Hotseattle," is also accused of possession of child pornography.