A federal appeals court this week affirmed the life sentence of a Virginia man convicted of traveling interstate with the intention of engaging in sexual conduct with a minor.

The defendant, David Vickers, appealed the sentence he received in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio arguing that he was unfairly targeted as part of an undercover sting operation and “outrageous government conduct” that induced him to commit his crimes, in violation of his due process rights.

The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion authored by Judge David McKeague, ruled that Vickers asserted an entrapment defense that would not hold up as a matter of law.

“There is nothing in the record to suggest that (investigators’) actions were so fundamentally unfair or outrageous that they denied Vickers due process,” McKeague wrote. “This court has consistently refused to find ‘outrageous government conduct’ and we likewise decline to do so here.”

Case summary states that in mid-December 2014, Vickers began communicating on the social media site “Experience Project” with a person he thought was a 29-year-old named Traci Black.

In reality, Traci was Special Investigator Miranda Helmick, a member of the Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, who had set up a fake profile on the site because it was known to the task force as oriented toward adult fetishes and sexually explicit conduct.

Vickers initiated communication with Traci and stated that he had set up his profile in order to “talk to teen girls.”

Helmick took note of Vickers’ membership in certain groups that promoted sexual conduct with young girls and particularly his posting on one message board soliciting “young forced roleplaying.”

Recognizing that Vickers posed a threat to young children, Helmick set her undercover operation in motion and created a fictional 13-year-old daughter, Katie, whom she told Vickers she wanted to “breed,” also known as finding an older man to impregnate her daughter.

Vickers immediately stated “let me know if I can help” and “I am interested in doing this.”

According to court documents, Vickers soon began revealing many troubling and illegal behaviors, telling Helmick that he watched child pornography and bestiality videos and that he had once engaged in sexual conduct with a minor.

Vickers sent Helmick 27 pornography videos, expressed his desire to continue this conduct by engaging in a relationship with Katie and offered graphic explanations of his plans.

Eventually, Helmick also posed as Katie and began texting Vickers directly. Vickers sent Katie many explicitly videos with comments such as, “That will be you in two weeks.”

After discussing the possibility of a meeting for several weeks, Vickers left his home in Virginia on Jan. 5, 2015 and traveled to Ohio to meet Traci and Katie. He was met by police and taken into custody.

Vickers chose to take his case to trial and was convicted on all counts including enticement of a minor, distributing child pornography and traveling in interstate commerce with the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct.

In his appeal to the 6th Circuit court, Vickers argued that he was essentially duped into committing his crimes due to the government’s conduct which he claimed was “shocking to the universal sense of justice.”

Overruling that argument, McKeague called Vickers’ claims “dubious” and noted that the circuit court has overruled such claims multiple times as attempts to avoid proving predisposition without actually asserting an entrapment defense.

“And here, Vickers attempts to do precisely that, characterizing what is essentially an entrapment defense as a due process violation by claiming that Helmick ‘improperly induced and repeatedly provoked’ him to engage in the conduct at issue,” McKeague wrote.

The appellate panel held that Vickers waived this defense because he did not raise it in the lower court.

“Nevertheless, even if we were to address the merits of Vickers’ ‘outrageous government conduct’ defense, we could not find that Helmick’s actions were ‘conscience shocking’ or rose to the level of egregiousness required to warrant reversal of his criminal conviction,” McKeague held.

Vickers argued is that he was really only interested in Traci all along, but that Helmick repeatedly baited him into pursuing a sexual relationship with Katie and berated him when he demonstrated hesitancy in following through.

“But the record refutes Vickers’ version of events,” McKeague wrote. “From the very first day of communications between Vickers and Helmick, Vickers expressed interest in Katie.”

The court pointed out that this interest never subsided and cited unprovoked comments that Vickers made during the chats: “Right now I want Katie LTR (long-term relationship)” and “I actually really care for (Katie) and like her.”

Furthermore, Vickers’ past behaviors — watching and distributing child pornography, ‘doing stuff’ with young girls, and trolling the internet for more innocent victims — indicated an undeniable fetish with young girls that predated his interactions with Helmick,” McKeague wrote. “Moreover, even if Vickers had developed an interest in Traci, that would not alter the fact that he was willing to coax a 13-year-old into having sex with him as the basis for forming such a relationship.

“Vickers’ feelings for Traci do not mitigate his guilt for any of the crimes of which he was convicted.”

The appellate panel also ruled that Vickers traveled to Ohio of his own free will, citing evidence in the record that his decision to travel interstate was entirely unprompted.

The court also overruled Vickers’ claims challenging the effectiveness of his counsel and the reasonableness of his life sentence before affirming the judgment of the district court.

Judges Damon Keith and Alice Batchelder joined McKeague to form the majority.

The case is cited United States v. Vickers, Case No. 16-3293.

By | 2017-04-24T09:51:13+00:00 Friday, March 24, 2017|