Trial begins for sex offender arrested in Facebook sting

A 35-year-old Snohomish man accused of trying to meet an Elma boy for sex was in court Tuesday for the first day of his trial.

Joel R. Alexander is charged with first-degree attempted child rape after being arrested outside a park bathroom in Elma April 16, where he had allegedly arranged to meet the boy through Facebook and email conversations. He was actually communicating with a Washington State Patrol detective during a month-long sting operation after the boy’s mother discovered the conversations.

Alexander is registered as a Level 2 sex offender after a 2001 conviction for second-degree rape of a child.

“This is a case about an old-fashioned predator,” prosecutor Katie Svoboda told the jury in her opening remarks. The Internet is simply a new tool, she added.

“Luckily there was law enforcement in that bathroom and not a 10-year-old boy,” Svoboda said.

Alexander is represented by Orlando Tadique and David Mistachkin. In his opening, Tadique repeatedly reminded jurors of their oaths to be impartial and to hold the state to proving Alexander committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, regardless of any emotional reactions they might have to the allegations or evidence.

“As jurors, you have an obligation to keep an open mind,” Tadique said.

He offered no specific denial of the charges against Alexander, but argued that they had months of chat logs full of innocent conversations about cars. The explicit materials alleged to be transmitted by Alexander came only after the detective, an adult, was running the account.

Court documents are full of sexually explicit conversations between the boy’s Facebook account and Alexander’s, although his attorneys have challenged the strength of the evidence showing Alexander was the one using the account after the detective took over.

It was after that the conversations became more explicit, and sexual photos were sent to the detective posing as the boy. Alexander allegedly instructed the boy on various sex acts and encouraged him to try them, and eventually arranged a meeting when the boy could get away from his mother.

The boy, who was 10 at the time he began communicating with Alexander, was the first witness to testify. He alternately looked anxiously at Alexander and away from him, his face flushed and his answers often too quiet to be heard.

He said he initially added Alexander as a friend on his Facebook account because he mistakenly thought he knew Alexander. An avid car racing fan, the boy and Alexander had a common friend through a racing organization.

“I didn’t know he was like that,” he said quietly. No clarification was asked for.

He testified that he began talking with Alexander, mainly about cars, and Alexander sent him several pictures of cars and of himself. He couldn’t remember during his testimony whether the messages from Alexander seemed “weird.”

The boy’s mother allowed him to create the account sometime during the summer of 2011 with the help of a friend, adding some basic privacy settings. She testified she had checked the account to make sure nothing inappropriate was posted, but didn’t check the messages until March. She noticed several from Alexander and read through the conversation history.

“Something caught my eye and was just a red flag,” she said.

Reading on, she found several messages asking the boy about his sexual preferences, if he had hit puberty yet, and what kind of underwear he wore.

“One of them kept asking if he liked boys or girls,” she said. “I freaked out and called the cops.”

From the Elma Police Department, the case went through the Attorney General’s Office to the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children’s Task Force. Det. Michael Brearty, a 25-year WSP veteran, posed as the boy and conducted the sting. He is expected to complete his testimony today.

Jury selection took most of the morning Tuesday. Counting two alternates, the jury has 10 women and four men.

Testimony continues today in the case.