A former casual employee of Okanagan Skaha School District has been found guilty of communicating via computer to lure a child under 16.
Stephen Hughes was caught in a RCMP sting chatting with an RCMP constable working with the Surrey Integrated Child Exploitation Unit under the persona of Vicki Cooper, a 13-year-old girl who went by the screen name of GorgeousVicki1998.
“This is a situation where he got carried away with a fantasy, unfortunately that one was an unlawful one,” said Judge Gale Sinclair during his decision on Tuesday at the Penticton courthouse.
The trial, which started in November, wrapped up on Tuesday with the defence calling Hughes to the stand. The 36-year-old told the court he had been chatting with several women online and had even had met some in person to have sexual encounters.
Chat logs entered as evidence showed he initiated the conversation with GorgeousVicki1998 and it continued for about two months before Hughes’ arrest at his home in Summerland on June 17, 2011.
The court earlier heard from Hughes’ wife, who he is now separated from. She said Hughes had not made any friends since they moved from Slave Lake, Alta., that he had lost self-confidence and grown lonely. Hughes had been working as a casual certified education assistant but was only filling in for teachers on sick days or vacation and had become depressed. She also said her husband was extremely stubborn when he was out to prove something and became “stuck” on the topic.
Defence counsel Emmet Duncan rehashed that fact in his closing, saying his client felt GorgeousVicki1998 was not a 13-year-old girl and he was “stuck” on proving it. Their chats ranged from regular conversation to directing her on how to masturbate and discussion about oral sex.
Duncan said his client questioned the age of the girl because of her sentence structure, and skepticism grew when she once said she was using the computer in the school library to chat with him. He said he knew computers at schools were disengaged to allow online chatting.
Hughes had also asked GorgeousVicki1998 to send him pictures of herself numerous times, and when she finally did, it appeared suspicious, as though someone was trying to hide their identity, said Duncan. This kept the stubborn Hughes pushing for the truth, according to the defence.
“He believed this person was an adult and that gave him reason to play the game and cause this person to come out,” said Duncan. “Mr. Hughes’ game is consistent with the weird world of the Internet where you have people trying to one up another.”
Sinclair said during his decision that he does not think Hughes is a repeat offender or a pedophile.
“He just got addicted to chatting and crossed the line and learned his lesson,” said Sinclair. “My gut reaction is this is not a guy that is going to go to jail.”
A June 12 date has been set for Hughes to return to court for sentencing. A mandatory minimum jail sentence is not applicable for the charge.