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People v. Walter

May 26, 2004


[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of McHenry County. No. 99-CF-876 Honorable Thomas A. Schermerhorn, Sr., Judge, Presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

[8]  Defendant, Daniel Walter, Jr., was charged with three counts of attempt (aggravated criminal sexual abuse) (720 ILCS 5/8--4(a), 12--16(d) (West 1998)). Following a bench trial, defendant was convicted of one count of the offense and sentenced to probation. Defendant now appeals from his conviction. We reverse.

[9]  In April 1999, defendant, aged 24, began exchanging e-mails with Rachel K. of Harvard, Illinois. Rachel, who was 15 years old at the time, had placed a personal ad on her e-mail account in order to meet and get to know new people. Shortly thereafter, she received a response from defendant. The two never spoke, but they began to e-mail each other at least once a day. Some of the e-mails included discussions of sex and sexual fantasies. In a June 2 communication, defendant described his fantasy of meeting his "pen-pal" in a restaurant, then having sexual relations in a movie theater and, presumably, a hotel room. In another communication, defendant mentioned to Rachel a fantasy "of you and your best friend teaming up on me." Rachel responded, "[Y]ou never told me about this fantasy. [W]hen did you plan on telling me? [A]nd no I'd never do that with my best friend that would be way too weird!!"

[10]   In May 1999, Rachel's father, Fred, discovered some of the sexually-themed e-mails. He spoke to Rachel about the e-mails, but noticed that she continued to communicate with defendant at least once a day. In June, Fred printed some of the e-mails from May and June and took them to the Harvard police department. Detective Dean Burton reviewed the e-mails, including a June 2 message wherein defendant and Rachel discussed meeting in person. Burton met with Rachel on June 15, and he reviewed all subsequent e-mails between Rachel and defendant. He also told Rachel that, if the subject of meeting were to come up, she should suggest that defendant meet her in some public place, such as a McDonald's restaurant.

[11]   On June 16, Rachel asked defendant if he had thought anymore about meeting in person. Defendant told her that maybe they could meet for lunch on a weekday. Defendant also said:

[12]   "As before, whatever makes you comfy is fine by me, if that means brings [sic] your best friend or whatever. I'm nervous/weary [sic] about meeting parents, but [if] it makes you feel better I will. Like I said, I don't know how they'd take to a 24 year old talking to their 16 year old daughter."

[13]   Defendant said that he thought about Rachel and "those fantasies." The next day, Rachel responded that she would feel more comfortable with her best friend present. She still thought about the fantasies and thought that "once we meet we could talk about those fantasies and see how we both feel about them." Several days later, defendant e-mailed back that the earliest he could meet Rachel was July 7 and that "I'm willing to if you are." Rachel responded that they should meet at the McDonald's in Harvard on July 7.

[14]   On July 2, defendant informed Rachel that he planned to arrive at noon. He said he could stay:

[15]   "For a couple of hours. We'll see, maybe you can convince me to stay more ...? Not too much though, because I still have to work that day."

[16]   On July 6, Rachel sent an e-mail describing what she and her friend would be wearing the next day. At Burton's behest, she also mentioned that there was a hotel near the McDonald's. Defendant responded, "That sounds interesting. That may be a possibility : )."

[17]   Detective Burton went to the McDonald's at about 11:15 a.m. on July 7. Rachel was not present. Burton, who had seen a picture of defendant, saw him enter the McDonald's, buy a meal, and sit in a booth. Defendant sat in the booth, eating and reading a newspaper, for about one hour. As defendant left, Burton followed him out to the parking lot and introduced himself, but told defendant, "you might better know me as Rachel." Although Burton told defendant that he was not under arrest, an unmarked squad car pulled behind defendant's car so that he could not exit the parking lot in his car. Defendant agreed to accompany Burton to the police station to discuss the situation regarding Rachel. When asked if he knew that he had been exchanging e-mails with a 16-year-old girl, defendant stated that he did, and that he knew that Rachel was only 15 when they began e-mailing each other. He was also aware that, if he had committed the sexual acts that he had discussed with Rachel, he would have committed a crime.

[18]   Defendant consented to a search of his car. Officers found a bag containing a candy bar and a box of condoms. The receipt in the bag showed that the items had been purchased that morning. According to Burton, defendant stated that he bought the condoms "just in case he did have sex with Rachel that day" and that if he did not have sex with Rachel, he would use them with his girlfriend. The officers also found two atlases in the car. Defendant told the officers that he used an atlas and the Internet to determine how to get to Harvard.

[19]   Defendant also gave Burton a written statement, which included, in relevant part:

[20]   "So I figured we could meet for lunch, to put a name to the face. She sent a final couple of emails, one of which referred to possibly acting out the fantasy. I said, it was a possibility. I then began to wonder if she were serious--because I was going to be in serious trouble if I did follow through! Just in case, I bought a box of condoms (3) and was convinced that I would only go through with it if she ...

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