A 36-year-old Penticton man was convicted today of luring a child through the Internet, except the child didn't exist and its unclear what, if anything, he lured her for.
Stephen Robert Carl Hughes was arrested in an online sting operation on June 17 when he was a Summerland resident. The former casual employee of the Okanagan Skaha School District would go online and chat with an undercover RCMP officer. Hughes thought he was chatting with a 13-year-old girl who went by the screen name GorgeousVicki1998. The chats between them lasted roughly 60 days.
He was found guilty today in Penticton Provincial Court of luring a child under 16 via a computer. He will be sentenced at a later date.
Judge Gale Sinclair was satisfied Hughes committed a criminal act but said it was due to Hughes' chatroom addiction and possible depression. The accused said he has been chatting online since he was a teenager.
Defence lawyer Emmet Duncan said Hughes was also unhappy and bored.
"Idle hands do the devil's work," Sinclair said. "That's what my mom told me."
A pre-sentence report is due by June 12 and a sentencing date has not been set but Sinclair said he does not believe Hughes is "a real offender."
Sinclair said he believed Hughes regretted his actions and he was not a pedophile but just "a little bit perverted."
"This is not a guy who is going to jail. That's my gut reaction," the judge said.
Throughout today's trial, Crockett and Duncan argued whether Hughes believed he was chatting with an underage teenager for the purpose of luring her to a rendezvous. Crockett said Hughes willingly went into a chatroom with a person he believed was under the age of 16. And when he had doubts about GorgeousVicki1998's claims of being a teenage girl he still visited the chatroom to speak with her.
Not all the chat between Hughes and GorgeousVicki1998 was sexual but when it became sexual it was Hughes who brought it up. The Crown added the chats have been recorded and speak for themselves. Hughes advised GorgeousVicki1998 about female masturbation and talked about vaginal penetration.
Crockett said he might have wrestled with his conscience during the chats but he still broke the law.
She pointed out Hughes asked GorgeousVicki1998 to show a picture of herself or use a web camera to show herself but this "bore no fruit." He still kept chatting when he should have ended the contact, Crockett said.
"He (told officers he) was disgusted by the way he was treating this child," Crockett said. The lawyer emphasized Hughes use of the word child.
At one point, Hughes wrote he was talking to a police officer. Crockett did not believe Hughes. She said any reasonable person would end the contact if they thought there was a cop on the other end. The Crown stood by her statement that Hughes believed he was talking to a child.
The defence lawyer said Hughes found several things suspicious about the person he thought he was chatting online with. And when GorgeousVicki1998 suggested a possible real-life meet-up, Hughes called it off.
"And finally, of course, it was (my client) who cut off the communication."
This did not sway Sinclair. He said he did not believe Hughes' claim he was talking to an adult.
"He crossed the line," the judge said. Hughes went from chatting online with adults to chatting with what he believed was a child.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Quesnel at email@example.com or call 250-488-3065.