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Jury finds coach guilty in Internet luring case

A jury in Fargo's federal court found a Concordia College coach guilty Wednesday of using the Internet to lure a minor for sex. The jury convicted Casey Scott Patten about 7 p.m. Wednesday after weighing evidence for about 4½ hours. "We thin...

A jury in Fargo's federal court found a Concordia College coach guilty Wednesday of using the Internet to lure a minor for sex.

The jury convicted Casey Scott Patten about 7 p.m. Wednesday after weighing evidence for about 4½ hours.

"We think justice was done in this case," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl. "I think this sends a strong message that we take the issue of protecting minors very seriously."

Patten, a 27-year-old assistant Concordia track coach, wept in the courthouse hallway after the verdict.

Patten has been suspended from his job pending the outcome of his trial.

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"I'm extremely disappointed," said Patten's attorney, Chris Lancaster. "I respect juries, but sometimes they do things you don't expect or agree with."

An appeal is likely, he said.

U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Erickson scheduled Patten's sentencing on Dec. 15.

Erickson continued Patten's release on condition he not have unsupervised contact with anyone younger than 18.

Patten could be sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison and fined up

to $250,000.

Police arrested Patten in a West Fargo grocery store parking lot Feb. 17, according to testimony during the three-day trial.

Patten drove to the lot in hopes of meeting "Sarah", a blond-haired, blue-eyed 16-year-old West Fargo High School student he met the day before in an Internet romance chat room.

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But Patten was actually corresponding with Al Schmidt, a West Fargo patrol officer who was investigating Internet luring cases.

Throughout the three-day trial, prosecutors dissected transcripts of two online chats Patten initiated with Schmidt.

From his office computer, Patten asked "Sarah" to provide her age and physical description. Then he turned the topic to sex, investigators testified.

Later, Patten offered to "hook up" and repeatedly asked "Sarah" to call him.

The next day, Schmidt asked dispatcher Brandi Gunderson to call Patten's cell phone.

During the call, Patten set up a meeting at the grocery store parking lot.

"This defendant's sole focus was his target's sexual ability and her willingness to get together and hook up," U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley told the jury during closing arguments Wednesday.

"He had a 16-year-old target that he found and prepped," Wrigley said. "He discussed nothing but sex with her and went to meet her for that purpose."

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Lancaster told the jury his client only talked about sexual preferences in the Internet chats.

"At no point did my client say, 'I want to do those things with you,'" Lancaster said.

The government's case, he said, requires the jury to speculate.

"They want you to think about might-have beens, could-have beens and maybes," Lancaster told the jury.

"It's a long shot, ladies and gentlemen, going from talking about sexual preferences to saying, "I'm going to have sexual relations with that person," Lancaster said.

"Don't be fooled," Puhl told the jury later. "He was looking for sex. It's that simple.

"If officer Schmidt hadn't been on the other end of that computer, there could have been a different 16-year-old waiting in that parking lot that afternoon."

Federal prosecutors had to convince the jury that Patten not only intended to have sexual contact with a minor, but that he intended for it to happen in North Dakota.

"Even if you find he did intend to have sexual activity, if it could have occurred outside North Dakota, you have to find my client not guilty," Lancaster told the jury.

Patten lived in a Moorhead apartment, Lancaster said.

What Lancaster couldn't tell the jury is that the age of consent in Minnesota is 16.

Judge Erickson barred sharing that information with the jury, saying it was irrelevant because prosecutors were required to prove the luring law was violated in North Dakota.

The jury, however, learned of Minnesota's age-of-consent law anyway.

During closing statements, Wrigley argued Patten wouldn't risk taking a minor to his Moorhead apartment to complete an "illegal liaison."

Lancaster waited for the jury to leave during a break, then objected to Wrigley's "illegal liaison" reference.

The reference suggests it would be illegal for Patten to have sexual contact with a 16-year-old at his Moorhead apartment, when Minnesota law says otherwise, Lancaster said.

To make sure the jury wasn't wrongfully swayed by Wrigley's statement, Erickson told the jury of Minnesota's consent law.

In the end, the legal mishap made little difference.

"The jury couldn't get around the defendant's words in that chat," Puhl said. "I don't think the jury had any problems with finding intent."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526

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