FARGO — A jury will decide whether a former West Fargo teacher tried to convince a detective who was posing as a child online to have sex with him.
Cass County prosecutors and the defense team for 59-year-old Ronald Jeffrey Thompson wrapped up jury selection Tuesday, Oct. 12. Opening statements will begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday. It’s unclear how long the trial will last.
Thompson was charged Feb. 24 with a Class B felony of luring a minor by computer. A detective from Florida who posed as a 14-year-old girl started chatting with Thompson online as early as Oct. 31, 2019, according to court documents.
Prosecutors alleged Thompson believed he was speaking with a 14-year-old but still had sexually explicit conversations that eventually moved to Google Hangouts after he requested an email from the undercover officer.
“Thompson talked about having oral sex with the girl along with describing in detail how he would have sex with the female,” a police report said.
The detective eventually learned Thompson was a West Fargo teacher, so he contacted the West Fargo Police Department, court documents said. Thompson taught at Sheyenne and West Fargo high schools.
Police claim Thompson admitted to talking with multiple females online, including more than one who was under the age of 18, when he was interviewed at a West Fargo high school, the report said. He denied having “any hands-on offenses with anyone he has chatted with,” the report said. He also said he did not have any inappropriate contacts or chats with anyone in the area, according to court documents.
The West Fargo Police Department confirmed in a news conference that their investigation revealed Thompson was not having relations with local students.
Thompson, who resigned as a career and technology education teacher in early February before being charged, has pleaded not guilty in the case.
The defense filed a motion on Monday to dismiss the luring charge. Prosecutors have to prove three elements of a luring charge: that an adult knows his communication is sexually explicit or implicit, that they use any computer communication system to initiate or engage in conversations with a minor, and the discussion “importunes, invites or induces” the child to engage in sexual activity.
Defense Attorney Jeff Bredahl argued in his request to dismiss the luring charge that the Cass County State’s Attorney's Office did not lay out the last element in charging documents.
On Tuesday, prosecutors withdrew a second charge from the case. In an amended charging document filed March 24, Thompson was charged with possession of certain materials prohibited by law after prosecutors alleged he had a photo of a young nude child.
Prosecutor Ryan Younggren said he agreed to drop the count after the defense said it should have been charged in a separate case. It’s possible that he will refile the charge, he said.
Questions to jurors
Bredahl asked potential jurors if they considered themselves courageous, particularly if they had enough courage to make a decision that wasn’t popular.
Another set of questions revolved around what types of books and movies people watched. One person watched “Squid Game,” a South Korean series recently released on Netflix about people in debt competing for a large cash prize.
Bredahl also asked if potential jurors had read the book “Fifty Shades of Grey,” an erotic romance novel in which a young businessman tries to develop a dominant relationship over a college graduate using bondage.
He also asked whether potential jurors would “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and find a person guilty if legal language was too difficult to decipher. At least one person said they would follow the letter of the law and not let other things distract them, adding having a person’s life in their hands is a serious matter.
Younggren asked if the panel believed things that happen online are real, such as playing video games or poker. One person responded yes, noting in online poker that people form relationships online, exchange money and have to discern what others are doing.
Younggren also noted Dateline’s “To Catch a Predator,” a reality show where a host confronts men who believe they are meeting minors for sex in a sting-style interview.
Some people claim luring crimes are victimless when it involves police officers posing as children, Younggren noted. One potential juror said there may not be a victim, but the intent to commit a crime is there.
Thirteen people were chosen to sit on the jury, including one alternate.