Rice's lawyers say charges are 'mere fiction'

February 25, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Attorneys for businessman Thomas D. Rice on Thursday called sex charges against Rice "mere fiction" and said police efforts in the case resemble entrapment.

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Rice, 58, of Martinsburg, has been charged in Bedford County, Va., with attempting to have sex with a 13-year-old boy after arranging a sexual encounter over the Internet with an undercover sheriff's deputy posing as a boy.

The Bedford County Sheriff's Office arrested Rice Saturday afternoon outside a Bedford County elementary school about 190 miles from Martinsburg.

Defense attorneys for Rice said in a faxed statement that police have "created a 'criminal' in the person of Mr. Rice. But for police inducement, no headlines would have been generated."

"The charges pending against him seem to focus more on media attention than on protecting society," according to the statement issued by the Bedford, Va., law firm of Garrett and Garrett.


Bedford County Sheriff's Office personnel could not be reached for comment Thursday.

An active member of the West Virginia Democratic Party, Rice was chief of operations for former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton. Rice resigned this week from his position as general manager of the Blue Ridge Outlet Center in Martinsburg.

Rice is charged with two felony counts of attempted indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14 and one felony count of attempted crimes against nature with a child under the age of 14.

His defense attorneys said the alleged offenses involve a 28-year-old police officer posing as a 13-year-old boy.

"Mr. Rice had several telephone conversations with the officer and had a clear understanding that the voice belonged to an adult," according to the statement.

Even if Rice thought the police officer was a 13-year-old, Rice's defense attorneys said the case would still fail.

"It is fundamental in our system of justice that conduct which is not penally prohibited does not become criminal simply because the actor believed his conduct constituted a crime ... With a fictitious victim, a conviction is unlikely," the statement said.

Defense attorneys also questioned the charge that Rice attempted to commit a crime against nature.

"The act, if it had been completed, would have been legal in most states. It is generally acknowledged that the Virginia Legislature continues to carry the statute, not for enforcement purposes, but to provide its citizens a moral compass," according to the statement.

The statement said that publicity generated by the case will "do far more injury" to Rice's reputation "than can possibly be remedied by a not-guilty verdict."

Rice is free on $10,000 bond and has been ordered not to use the Internet.

A conviction on each of the charges carries a 5-year maximum prison sentence and a $2,500 fine.

A preliminary hearing is set for April 29 at 9:30 a.m. in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in Bedford.

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