Quick guilty verdict in Facebook sting case

It took jurors less than 30 minutes to find a 35-year-old Snohomish man guilty of attempting to rape an Elma boy he met on Facebook. He now faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Joel R. Alexander was convicted of first-degree attempted rape of a child after trying to meet what he thought was an 11-year-old boy for sex in an Elma park bathroom. He had actually been corresponding on Facebook with a Washington State Patrol detective and was arrested at the park. Alexander was already a Level 2 sex offender after a 2001 conviction for second-degree rape of a child.

Because this is Alexander’s second conviction of a Class A sex crime, Washington State’s “two strikes” law for such offenses mandates he receive a life sentence. Barring any contests, that’s likely what will be handed down at Alexander’s Dec. 3 sentencing hearing.

Alexander initially began communicating with an Elma boy via Facebook, but the boy’s mother found some messages asking about the boy’s sexual preferences, experience and physical development and reported the conversations to police.

Prosecutor Katie Svoboda had high praise for the work police officers did, particularly the Elma police officer who first took the report. Despite the scarce resources of local law enforcement and before it was obvious how serious the case would ultimately become, Officer Steve Beck went the extra mile to make sure it was fully investigated. He contacted the Attorney General’s Office, which forwarded the case to the Missing and Exploited Children’s Task Force.

“He really did advocate for this case,” Svoboda said. “If it weren’t for him, this case wouldn’t be here.”

Wednesday was the second day of testimony in Alexander’s trial. After the prosecution finished its case, Alexander’s attorneys, David Mistachkin and Orlando Tadique, presented no witnesses of their own and also rested their case. They cross examined the prosecution’s witnesses.

Washington State Patrol detective Michael Braerty took over the boy’s Facebook and email accounts and continued to communicate with Alexander. His testimony included a lengthy chat log of his roughly month-long communication with Alexander. The chats and emails contained dozens of sexually explicit photographs and a video sent by Alexander. Several of the images showed his face and torso. The images had embedded data showing they came from a phone that was later shown to be the same model as Alexander’s.

During the online conversations after Braerty took over, Alexander instructed the boy in various sex acts and encouraged him to try them. He also repeatedly instructed the boy to delete the conversations and asked for his login information so he could help the boy delete the logs.

In April, Alexander made plans with the boy to meet for sex on a Sunday in a park bathroom in Elma. Alexander drove down the day before, checked out the bathroom and stayed overnight. He was followed from his mother’s house in Snohomish by police, including aerial surveillance. Braerty said on Saturday, Alexander went directly to the bathroom where he had arranged to meet the boy the following day.

Alexander was arrested on Sunday at the bathroom, minutes after Braerty, posing as the boy, told him on Facebook that he was heading to the bathroom. When he was searched, officers found a bottle of personal lubricant and a receipt from a local store from the night before. The time stamp was minutes before he had sent the boy a message about purchasing lubricant.

Alexander’s attorneys argued that for months prior to the takeover of the boy’s account, Alexander’s conversations with the boy were largely about innocuous topics, and no one had physically seen Alexander controlling the online accounts.

“The thing that just can’t be gotten around is Mr. Alexander is the one who showed up,” Svoboda said in her closing argument.

In his closing argument, Mistachkin told jurors the state had not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Alexander had taken a substantial step toward committing a rape.

“I listened closely to the state’s case — I didn’t hear it,” Mistachkin said.

He also argued that there was no way of knowing whether things would have gone the way they did without Braerty’s intervention and influence over the conversations. Mistachkin said it was possible the conversations would have remained innocent and no meeting would have been arranged.

“How is it that he goes eight months without talking about having sex, and detective Braerty takes over and a month later they’re arranging a meeting,” he said. “Is it a coincidence? Maybe, but I’ve never been a fan of coincidences, never have been.”

One juror, who asked that her name not be published, said the fact that Alexander not only got in the car and drove to Elma, but did a dry run at the bathroom, was ultimately the crux of the case.

Alexander is held in Grays Harbor County Jail and is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 3.