Mickey's surprise

An alternative juror gives his impression of the case of a Disney exec charged with crossing state lines to have sex with a minor.

Published December 14, 1999 1:00PM (EST)

The jury is still considering the fate of Patrick Naughton, the Disney Internet executive arrested in September for allegedly crossing state lines to have sex with a minor he had met on the Internet. The lawyers rested their cases Friday afternoon after a quick, four-day trial. Naughton's attorney, Donald Marks, urged the jurors to accept the accused's contention that he was just a stressed-out high-powered business exec unwinding after a hard day by playing make-believe. "You have to believe this was a fantasy land," he said. But an alternate juror on the case says that's like saying you have to believe in Santa Claus.

"He never had one iota of fantasy in anything he said," says the alternate, who asked not to be named. He was released from duty -- and from a juror's obligation not to talk about the case -- at the close of the trial. Like the jurors he served with, the alternate was shown transcripts of Naughton and an FBI agent -- using the aliases "hotseattle" and "krisLA," respectively -- chatting in a room billed as "dads&daughtersex." "He would come out with his name, his picture, everything he wanted to do -- everything he said was 100 percent true. He never exaggerated," said the alternate.

So where was the fantasy? According to the alternate, who took copious notes from the opening arguments to the judge's final instructions, "He said on the stand, 'Well, my fantasy is that I was playing myself.'"

Not playing with myself, mind you. "If he had just sat behind his keyboard," Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Donahue said in her closing arguments, "we wouldn't be here." And Naughton wouldn't be looking at up to 40 years of wearing an orange jumpsuit in a place where "Who's your daddy?" has a whole new meaning.

According to the alternate, who had read about the case before being selected, the government has Naughton dead to rights on at least two of the three counts: 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 first of these, he said, may be the hardest to get a conviction on. The Seattle executive was in San Francisco, en route to L.A., when he asked his secretary to rent him a car -- indicating that he may have already been in California when he allegedly decided to consummate his online intrigue.

While there has been some speculation in the press, which packed the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles last week, that Naughton's just-kidding defense depended on an Internet-savvy jury, the alternate I spoke to thinks not. At least half the jurors (a mix of men and women of several races, ranging in age from their mid-20s to around 60) were familiar with the Web ("most identified their ISP as AOL"), some very much so.

"I was in Prodigy chat rooms in '91," says the alternate; "I understand the fantasy argument. But he would never say anything in the rooms; he was a lurker. All he would do is get the names of the female users and send them private messages."

Perhaps most damning was Naughton's "favorites" list, a short cut to the places he most liked to visit. "On his favorites list he had exactly three channels," recalls the juror: "dads&daughterssex, girls&oldermen, girls&olderguys."

At times the defense seemed to be running on several tracks simultaneously. While maintaining that Naughton, who is credited with helping write the Java program while at Sun, was relieving the stress of his high-power job with a little fantasy, they also tried to say he came back to some of those same rooms for the conversation.

"He said he went to dad&daughtersex room a lot because he thought it had the right mix of people," recalls the alternate. "Even though it might be a sex line, people talk about all kinds of things -- football, anything." It is true that you can get tired of talking about almost anything -- presumably even sex with teenage girls -- but again, said the alternate, "He never engaged in conversation. He said so himself."

Attorney Marks (who previously defended Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss) also claimed that the FBI was interested in his client because of his status. At 33, Naughton had made quite a name for himself; he'd been profiled in Wired and Forbes ASAP and had palled around with Disney chief Michael Eisner and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. But the juror I spoke to wasn't buying the victim line.

"Obviously the FBI wanted him, but they wanted anyone who was going to try and arrange a meeting with a 13-year-old girl." For the role of the "girl" that evening on the Santa Monica pier, the sting provided a decoy: a sheriff's deputy in her 20s. (The juror said she could pass as a "big" 13-year-old.) FBI Special Agent Bruce Applin, who by this juror's account testified quite effectively, had supplied the chat-room correspondence.

"Kris [the online identity assumed by the FBI agent] never made an offer to meet," according to the alternate. "All she would say is, 'Then what do you want to do?'" (To which Naughton replied, according to the transcripts, "kiss, make out and play and stuff," and "lick and suck you all over.")

"Naughton complained that she was a terrible chat partner. If you look at her half of the conversation it doesn't look like much is going on. But later he said she was leading him on. That's not much of a lead."

Naughton had better pray that the men and women deciding his fate are more open to the exec-under-stress argument than this alternate is. Of the hours the executive spent working, the juror commented, "If he hadn't spent so much time on Internet relay chat at the office, maybe he wouldn't have to work so long."

And what of the child pornography on his hard drive? The Feds flew a witness in from the United Kingdom's National Crime Squad, who identified two of the people in the pictures found on Naughton's laptop as being 8 and 9 years old. And though Naughton claimed that his chat software was set up to receive files without his knowledge, records indicated that he had viewed them after they downloaded.

One of the files he saw was clearly labeled: "Baby cunt."

By Sean Elder

Sean Elder is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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