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United States v. Cochran

July 16, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DONALD L. COCHRAN, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. No. 2:06 CR 161-Phillip P. Simon, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Flaum, Circuit Judge

ARGUED MAY 29, 2008

Before FLAUM, MANION, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.

Defendant Donald L. Cochran was arrested as part of an on-line sex chat room sting. He was caught fondling himself in front of a webcam for who he thought to be a thirteen-year-old girl, but turned out to be an undercover officer. He was then convicted for violating 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b), which forbids adults from enticing minors to engage in "any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense." Cochran admits to his actions and the evidence against him, but argues that his conduct did not violate the statute under which he was charged and convicted. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. Background

Over the course of several weeks, beginning on July 31, 2006, Cochran had seven separate internet chats with "ashley12_km" ("Ashley"), who in fact was Detective Sergeant Carrie Costello of the Purdue University Police Department, posing online as a thirteen-year-old girl in the eighth grade. Six of these seven chats were initiated by Cochran, and ten different times during the course of these conversations, Cochran exposed and fondled his penis in front of a webcam for "Ashley" to see.

It was Cochran's idea to use a webcam during their chats, and he took various steps to help "Ashley" view the images. First, in order for "Ashley" to view his webcam, Cochran had to send her an electronic webcam invitation, which he did. Cochran then detailed for "Ashley" how to adjust her computer preferences in order to see the images and how to get around "parent control" settings designed to block webcam content. He also walked "Ashley" through the process for deleting their messages so that her "mom" would not see their archived conversations.

During their first chat on July 31, Cochran exposed himself to "Ashley". This was preceded by various forms of sexual innuendo on Cochran's part, including calling "Ashley" "sweet", stating that it was so hot that "it even hot running round naked", and that he liked to play "strip pool." Later in the chat, after exposing and fondling himself in front of the webcam, Cochran asked "Ashley" if she "liked" what she saw. After their chat, Cochran again reminded "Ashley" to clean out her archives.

Subsequent encounters between Cochran and "Ashley" were similar in nature. In these later conversations, Cochran asked to see "Ashley" on camera, asked her if she liked what she saw, sent her various "emoticons,"*fn1 such as a French kiss, and continued to expose and fondle himself in front of the webcam. During some of these incidents, Cochran would also describe in detail the male organ and male orgasm.

After Cochran was arrested, he waived his Miranda rights and made a post-arrest statement. Cochran admitted to his conduct with "Ashley", and conceded that during their first conversation he was told that "Ashley" was thirteen (although according to him, he was not aware of this until after he had already exposed himself for the first time). Cochran stated that he continued exposing himself in later chats because "Ashley" indicated that she "enjoyed" it, adding that "it excites you when someone likes what you're doing or likes what you got." He attempted to justify his behavior, however, by explaining that he was acting as a "father figure" and "preparing her for . . . the real world," and likening his actions to a "teaching experience."

A grand jury indicted Cochran on September 8, 2006 for one count of violating 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b) by using the internet to entice a purported minor to engage in sexual activity that is criminal under Indiana law. The Government then filed a bill of particulars a month later specifying that the underlying Indiana laws were IND. CODE § 35-42-4-6 for child solicitation and IND. CODE § 35-42-4-5 for vicarious sexual gratification by fondling in a minor's presence. A jury trial ensued in January 2007. During the Government's case in chief, the jury viewed excerpts from the webcam videos and listened to Cochran's post-arrest statement. At the close of the Government's case, Cochran moved for a directed verdict pursuant to FED. R. CRIM. P. 29. The district court granted this motion as it related to the Government's charge under Indiana's child solicitation statute, but allowed the vicarious sexual gratification charge to go to the jury while taking the issue under advisement. The jury then returned a guilty verdict on January 19, 2007. On September 5, 2007, the district court issued an opinion and order denying Cochran's motion for judgment of acquittal regarding the vicarious sexual gratification claim. The district court based its decision on its finding that the Government presented sufficient evidence for the jury to find that Cochran enticed "Ashley", and that what he enticed her to engage in was "sexual activity." Cochran now appeals that decision.

II. Discussion

The sole issue raised by Cochran on appeal is the district court's denial of his motion for judgment of acquittal, which we review de novo. United States v. James, 464 F.3d 699, 705 (7th Cir. 2006). It is proper to grant such a motion only when there is insufficient evidence to support a conviction, id. (citing United States v. O'Hara, 301 F.3d 563, 569 (7th Cir. 2002)), and it is a daunting task for a defendant to prevail on such a claim. See United States v. Graham, 315 F.3d 777, 781 (7th Cir. 2003) ("A party challenging the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a jury conviction faces a steep uphill battle."); United States v. Moore, 425 F.3d 1061, 1072 (7th Cir. 2005) (there is a "nearly insurmountable hurdle" to prevailing on a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence). In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence, this Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government, and determines whether "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Carter, 410 F.3d 942, 952 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting United States v. Arocho, 305 F.3d 627, 639 (7th Cir. 2002)).

Cochran was convicted under 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b),*fn2 which makes it criminal to: (1) use interstate commerce; (2) to knowingly persuade, induce, entice, or coerce; (3) any person under 18; (4) to engage in "any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense, or attempts to do so." 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b); United States v. Thomas, 410 F.3d 1235, 1245 (10th Cir. 2005) (articulating the same four elements of the crime); United States v. Brand, 467 F.3d 179, 201-02 (2d Cir. 2006) (same). On appeal, Cochran argues that the second element of this criminal statute was not proven by the Government. While Cochran admits to his conversations and webcam use with "Ashley", he contends that these actions did not rise to the level of persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion. See United States v. Tykarsky, 446 F.3d 458, 482 (3d Cir. 2006) ("Section 2422(b) does not prohibit all communications with a minor; nor ...


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