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Naughton Internet Sex Case Goes to Jury

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jurors began deliberations in the Patrick Naughton case Friday, after prosecutors and defense attorneys closed the weeklong sex trial with spirited arguments over whether the former high-tech executive intended to seduce a 13-year-old girl over the Internet or was merely engaged in an online fantasy.

“You have to believe this was a fantasy land,” Donald Marks, Naughton’s attorney, told jurors in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. He argued that the government targeted and tricked his high-profile client in an effort to catch a defendant who would be “a prize” for law enforcement, “the biggest fish they could ever catch in their net.”

But Assistant U.S. Atty. Patricia Donahue urged the jury to convict the 34-year-old former executive vice president of Go.com, a popular Internet site owned by Walt Disney Co.

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“It was no fantasy land on the Santa Monica Pier,” she said, referring to the site of Naughton’s arrest Sept. 16, after he had showed up for an alleged sexual rendezvous.

“He came here,” Donahue said, “to have sex with a 13-year-old girl.”

Naughton faces three felony counts, including interstate travel with intent to have sex with a minor, use of the Internet to solicit sex from a minor and possession of child pornography on his laptop computer.

The charges stem from a seven-month investigation in which Naughton corresponded with an undercover FBI agent posing as a 13-year-old girl in a chat room called “Dad&DaughterSex.;”

A conviction would mark an unseemly undoing of a Silicon Valley star who helped create the Java programming language and held top jobs with Infoseek Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Disney.

But if Naughton is not convicted, it would be the first major defeat for law enforcement agencies that increasingly use such online stings to catch suspected sex offenders.

In a novel defense tactic, Marks argued that Naughton never believed he was corresponding with a minor because many people in chat rooms lie about their identities. Naughton was in Southern California strictly to attend a meeting at Disney, Marks said, and showed up at the pier only because he was curious.

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“He wanted to see who this was,” Marks said. “That’s not a crime.”

But Donahue argued that Naughton gave every indication that he was serious. She cited several remarks he made in chat sessions that he was “for real,” and that what he wanted to do with his chat partner was “illegal.”

“If he had just sat behind his keyboard . . . we wouldn’t be here,” Donahue told the jury. “We’re here because he intended to have sex with this girl, and he acted on it.”

A verdict in the case could be delivered Monday.

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