02/07/2002

Court to Decide if Police Pedophile Sting was Legal

by Kevin O'Hanlon, Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Do police officers break the law when they place false magazine advertisements or post Internet messages aimed at catching pedophiles?

It depends.

The Nebraska Supreme Court was to hear the case Thursday of Ronald Canaday, who was arrested after responding to an ad in a swingers' magazine placed by Omaha police officers in 1999.

The ad said: "Lisa ... Single mom looking for right man who likes kids and understands needs!"

After Canaday responded to the ad, Officer Steve Henthorn, posing as "Lisa," exchanged several letters with him.

Lisa eventually said she was looking for a man who could give her three minor children "special hands-on sex education," according to court documents.

Canaday later arranged to meet the woman at an Omaha hotel, where he brought sex paraphernalia.

He was arrested and convicted of conspiring to commit first-degree sexual assault on a child and sentenced to five years of probation.

On appeal, Assistant Douglas County Defender Gary Olson said Canaday was a victim of entrapment - or coaxing an otherwise law-abiding citizen to commit a crime.

"If left to his own devices, it is unlikely he would have ever run afoul of the law," Olson said.

Entrapment allegations are increasing as police across the country run similar stings.

Last year, the Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the conviction of an Omaha man for using e-mails to arrange sex with a 14-year-old girl.

In that case, Gary E. Heitman went to a fast-food restaurant and handed an envelope containing a provocative note, $100 and three condoms to the girl, who was working there.

After police were called in, they posed as the girl in a series of e-mails and eventually coaxed Heitman to meet her and another girl for sex.

The high court said that while the evidence showed that police induced Heitman to commit the crime, his conviction should stand because it was shown that he was predisposed to commit the act.

In 2000, a transvestite convicted of trying to have sex with children was freed from prison by a federal appeals court in California because police used the Internet to entrap him.

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