A jury Friday acquitted Timothy Mark West of charges he intended to have sex with two children when he arrived at a Salt Lake motel two years ago, invited by the children's mother who was in reality an undercover state agent.
The 3rd District jury found West, 29, not guilty of first-degree felony counts of attempted child sodomy and attempted object rape of a child.West answered an ad placed in weekly sex-oriented publications in March 1996 by Utah Bureau of Investigations chief Heber Smith in an operation designed to flush out pedophiles.
Using Kim Kavanaugh, one of his agents, Smith created a fictitious young widow with two fictitious children who was looking for someone to teach the children about sex.
West, along with about 100 others, answered the ad, according to court testimony, and began corresponding with Kavanaugh, who he knew as Jill King. They wrote, talked on the phone, and met, eventually setting up a meeting in a motel June 6, 1996, where West was supposed to meet her children.
Prosecutor Jim Cope of the Salt Lake County Attorney's Office told the jury West's intentions, to have sex with the children, were clear from his letters and actions.
"West volunteered himself. Yes, I'm willing to do it, and I have some stories about how I've done it in the past," Cope told the jury, referring to stories West included in his letters about other sexual encounters with young children.
"The alarm bells started going off," Cope said.
The sting operation was set up to stop pedophiles from harming children and was successful, Cope said.
"It was not a perfect operation, but it was a very, very good one," Cope said. "The government did nothing wrong."
Urging the jurors to look at the letters and sexual paraphernalia West had when he was arrested and which were introduced as evidence, Cope told them, "When you get your hands dirty, you'll know just what kind of man this is."
But defense attorney Rebecca Hyde argued the operation was flawed and West was snared, goaded into saying and doing things he would not normally have done because he was smitten with Kavanaugh and wanted a relationship with her.
West answered an ad in a swingers magazine, Hyde said, and thought he was going to meet a woman interested in a sexual relationship. His letters said nothing about children, she told the jury.
That idea was brought up by the agents, Hyde said, and West went along with it, telling Kavanaugh what he thought she wanted to hear to keep their relationship going.
Investigators looked into West's stories of having sex with neighborhood children but no charges were filed, Hyde said, suggesting the stories were a fantasy, made up by West because he thought it was what Kavanaugh wanted to hear.
The operation was flawed and doomed to failure, Hyde said, because there was no violation of the law. West was arrested when he walked up to the door of the motel room where he thought he was going to meet the children, she said.
There is no way to know what would have happened if he'd actually met the children, Hyde argued, and West's taped statements in the hour before that indicate all he wanted to do was meet and talk to them.
Hyde admitted West's letters are "disturbing, they're explicit and disgusting. But they aren't against the law."
"You may be appalled at Mark West's behavior and think he needs help, but don't let the prosecution play on that," Hyde said.
"Don't let the prosecution attach Mark West's face to your fears."
Cope said West's case was an unusual one to prosecute. There were no victims to put on the stand to testify because the children West thought he was going to meet were fictitious. And, no sex act actually occurred, Cope said.