Cape resident found not guilty of attempted statutory rape

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Police had arrested Robert C. Wells as part of an Internet sting.

NEW MADRID, Mo. -- A Cape Girardeau man charged with attempted statutory rape was found not guilty Monday in New Madrid County Circuit Court.

Robert C. Wells, 46, of 2515 Horseshoe Ridge, was accused of attempting to meet with a 15-year-old girl for the purpose of having sex after reportedly meeting her on the Internet.

If convicted, Wells faced up to four years in prison and $5,000 in fines.

New Madrid Circuit Court Judge Fred W. Copeland found Wells not guilty after a bench trial last week where he heard testimony from witnesses and Wells.

Cape Girardeau defense attorney Malcolm H. Montgomery said Wells was "extremely pleased" with the verdict.

Montgomery said he requested a change of venue to New Madrid County due to the publicity surrounding the case in Cape Girardeau, adding he believed the outcome could have been different if the case had not been moved.

Cape Girardeau police arrested Wells March 6 at the Great Wall Chinese Restaurant, 3254 William St., where the meeting was to take place, said police spokesperson Jason Selzer.

Wells reportedly thought he was going to meet a girl he had been conversing with on the Internet Web site MySpace.com, but in reality he had been communicating with police. The police had opened an account in the name of a fictitious 15-year-old girl who was approached by Wells online.

Subsequent e-mail correspondence between the girl and Wells eventually led to a plan for a face-to-face meeting at the restaurant that was actually a sting operation. Wells was met by police as he started to leave the scene in his car.

Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said Wells watched a person he thought was the girl sitting in a car for about 10 minutes before leaving. That person was a police decoy. Wells never got out of his car to approach her. During the trial, Wells testified he had changed his mind about meeting the girl and decided to leave, Swingle said.

Swingle said the verdict would not impede efforts by police to continue a proactive approach to preventing sexual abuse against minors in Cape Girardeau County. "I applaud the investigation done by Cape Girardeau Police Department," he said. "It sends a very strong message to adult men ... "

Selzer said setting up the MySpace.com identity was a step aimed at keeping minor residents safe. The department has not received any complaints about sexual predators on the Internet.

cschmidlkofer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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