November 30, 2008

FL- Man posing as teen girl explains role in Dateline sex sting

11-29-2008 Florida:

BUNNELL -- A hardware store manager discussed his role posing as a "standard teenage girl" for the Dateline NBC TV's "To Catch a Predator Sting" in Flagler Beach during a recent court hearing.

Eric Joseph Walker, who manages an Ace Hardware store in Fort Walton Beach, talked about his decoy duties in the case against Stephen Holt of Orlando.

Holt was among 21 men who police said followed up sexually explicit online chats with decoys posing as children by driving to Flagler Beach to meet the "children" during the sting, which ran Dec. 8-11, 2006.

Holt, 21, faces charges of attempted lewd or lascivious battery, computer pornography, child exploitation, and transmission of harmful material to a minor.

Walker discussed his role via speakerphone as part of the hearing in which Holt's attorney, William Jay, sought to have chat logs and other evidence thrown out. Circuit Judge Kim C. Hammond has yet to rule on Jay's motion.

Walker declined to speak to a News-Journal reporter or provide his age. Public records list an Eric J. Walker who lives in Fort Walton Beach and is 40 years old.

Walker explained his role to Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Carlson. He said he decided to become a decoy -- known as a "volunteer contributor" -- after reading an article about Perverted Justice in February 2004.

He told Carlson he didn't receive any training but did "sign off" on procedures.

"It's a pretty extensive list of rules of how to conduct ourselves and what you can and can't do in chats," he said.

"The most important ones are the ones that cover how first contact is made, how we are never to make first contact with the subject," Walker said. "And also how to chat, how we never bring up sexual things or meet, you know, never bring up meeting the person first. That's all left up to the subject."

He said Perverted Justice administrators generally put out a call for contributors about four to six weeks before an onsite sting.

Walker said he was on his computer at home in Okaloosa County when Holt made first contact on Dec. 2, 2006.

Carlson asked Walker what persona he was portraying.

"A 13-year-old girl, just kind of standard teenage girl," Walker said.

He said Holt saw his decoy profile in a public chatroom and contacted him via an instant message.

Walker said he drove to Flagler Beach for the bust and continued to chat online with Holt from the sting house.

Under questioning by Holt's attorney, Jay, Walker said all his directions about behaving online came from Perverted Justice. Jay said since Walker was a private citizen he needed Holt's consent to record their online conversations. Holt didn't consent, Jay said.

Jay added that the only way Walker could record the conversation without Holt's consent was under the direction of law enforcement, but Flagler Beach police do not have jurisdiction in Okaloosa County.

Jay said the sting was not led by Flagler Beach police but rather by Dennis Kerr, an administrator at Perverted Justice.

Carlson countered that Flagler Beach police granted the authority to Kerr, who then gave it to contributors such as Walker.

Carlson said that -- unlike in a telephone conversation -- Holt has no expectation of privacy in an online instant message conversation.

"Mr. Holt didn't know really who he was talking to," Carlson said. "He thought he was talking to a 13-year-old girl. But, as you heard today, he was speaking to an adult male individual." ..News Source.. by FRANK FERNANDEZ, Staff Writer

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