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Former Garden Plain coach acquitted of two felony charges; jury hung on third

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, April 8, 2013, at 10:36 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, August 30, 2013, at 7:31 a.m.

A Sedgwick County jury acquitted former Garden Plain football coach Todd Puetz of two felony charges Monday but was unable to reach a verdict on the third and most serious count.

After for than a full day of deliberations, the jury found Puetz not guilty of attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child and attempted criminal sodomy. The jury said it was deadlocked on a charge of electronic solicitation of a child.

If retried and convicted on the solicitation charge, Puetz would face a sentence of 55 to 61 months in prison. He would have qualified for probation had he been convicted of either of the other two charges.

Lawyers on both sides were reluctant to discuss the case because on of the charges is still pending. A dozen of Puetz’s relatives attended the trial, and one or two of them cried quietly after the jury’s decision was announced.

The charges grew out of an undercover police sting operation in October 2011 that targeted men willing to pay for sex with underage girls.

During the trial, the jury heard recordings of several calls Puetz made to a phone being answered by an undercover police detective posing as a 15-year-old prostitute. Puetz testified that he innocently called the number looking for a massage after seeing an ad that the detective had placed on the backpage.com Internet website.

During the 3 ½ days of testimony last week, the jury heard a prosecution case that was based largely on the testimony of Detective Jennifer Wright, the detective who posed as the girl. Although the ad carried a note that said the poster was 18, Wright said she told Puetz in the first call that she was 15.

Over a two hour period on the night of Oct. 22, 2011, the jury was told, Puetz and Wright exchanged nine calls or voice mail messages before Puetz arrived at a pink house in the 15100 block of West Kellogg where police were conducting the sting.

Puetz testified that he innocently called the number after finding it on backpage.com while looking for a place to get a massage. He testified that he had no intention of having sex with underage girl. Less than an hour before his arrest, he testified, he had sex with an adult woman who also had advertised her services on the backpage.com website.

The defense called nearly a dozen character witnesses who said Puetz’s character was beyond reproach and that he had never showed any unhealthy interest in underage girls.

Shortly before reaching its verdict, the jury asked for a read-back of testimony Wright gave about the third of the nine telephone exchanges between Wright and Puetz. In that call, Wright called Puetz as she tried to give him directions to the house where he was eventually arrested.

District Judge Ben Burgess gave the jurors an entrapment instruction that said they should find the defendant 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.

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

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