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Jury begins deliberations in Puetz trial

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, April 5, 2013, at 10:05 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, August 30, 2013, at 7:31 a.m.

A Sedgwick County jury began deliberations Friday in the trial of former Garden Plain football coach Todd Puetz.

After 31/2 days of testimony, the jury deliberated for just over two hours before adjourning for the weekend.

Among the evidence sent to the jury room are audio recordings of several calls that Puetz made to a telephone that was being answered by an undercover police detective posing as a 15-year-old runaway prostitute.

Puetz is charged with felony counts of electronic solicitation of a child, attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child and attempted criminal sodomy. The charges grew out of an undercover police sting operation that targeted men willing to pay for sex with underage girls.

The operation was conducted in a house in the 15100 block of West Kellogg after a detective posing as a girl named Rissa placed an ad in the escorts section of the backpage.com website in October 2011. Puetz was one of seven men who answered the ad and were arrested in the sting.

District Judge Ben Burgess included an entrapment instruction in the information he sent to the jury room. The instruction said a defendant should be found not guilty if he was induced by police to commit a crime he had no predisposition of committing. Entrapment is not a defense, the instruction said, in a case where a defendant was predisposed to committing a crime and police only offered him an opportunity to do so.

The ad placed by the detective included a notice that said the poster was 18 years old, but the detective told Puetz on his first call that she was only 15.

“That’s pretty young,” Puetz is heard saying on the tape.

“Well, it’s not like I’m 5,” the detective told him.

“Where are you located at?” Puetz asked.

In his closing argument, prosecutor Jason Edwards discounted Puetz’s claim that he suspected all along that the person claiming to be a teenage runaway was really a police officer.

“Either that’s a 15-year-old girl or a cop pretending to be a 15-year-old girl,” Edwards said. “Either way, why would you consider having conversation? But he does.”

Assistant District Attorney Shannon Wilson, who helped prosecute the case, told the jury that the sting operation was a good-faith attempt by police to take a proactive approach to combating the sexual exploitation of underage girls.

“You know there is a seedy underworld in our community,” she told the jury. “You also know that Todd Puetz chose to be part of that underworld.”

Wilson asked the jury not to seriously consider an entrapment defense.

“They did not go looking for him,” she said. “He called them. If he doesn’t call them, we are not here today.”

In his closing argument, defense lawyer Dan Monnat argued that the sting operation was a trap that ensnared anyone who happened to wander into it.

He reminded the jury of 10 character witnesses who testified that Puetz’s character and reputation were beyond question. Several said Puetz has often been around teenage girls and was never suspected of having improper feelings for them.

Monnat told the jury that before he was arrested, police had never considered Puetz to be a potential child sex molester. Despite all the publicity surrounding the case, Monnat said, no teenage girls have come forward to say that Puetz behaved improperly around them.

“Did any real 15-year-old teenager or child come forward to say that Todd had ever done anything like this before?” he asked.

Monnat said entrapment was a legitimate defense in this case.

“He had no previous disposition to be interested in 15-year-olds,” he said.

Deliberations are scheduled to resume Monday.

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com.

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