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Sheriff defends Rice's arrest

March 03, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Defense attorneys' statements that police methods might have amounted to entrapment to catch businessman Thomas D. Rice in an Internet sex sting are "totally inaccurate," said Bedford County, Va., Sheriff Michael J. Brown.

Rice, 58, of Martinsburg, is charged 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, Va., law firm of Garrett and Garrett issued a statement last week calling charges against Rice "mere fiction" and stating police had "created a criminal in the person" of Rice.

Bedford police, however, remain confident they have built a strong case against Rice.

"Mr. Garrett has only one side of the story - Mr. Rice's side. I don't think he will still be saying entrapment when he sees the evidence in this case," said Brown.

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Harry Garrett did not return phone calls for comment Tuesday.

Brown called defense contentions that Rice knew he was talking to a 28-year-old man posing as a boy "incorrect" and said evidence in the case would show Rice thought he was arranging sex with a 13-year-old boy.

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.

Brown said Rice and the deputy communicated through computers and by telephone, but Brown refused to comment on police methods used in the case.

A police investigator is expected to perform a "cyber autopsy" next week on a computer police seized in a search of Rice's Martinsburg home, said Brown.

Police already have transcripts of the computer exchanges between Rice and the deputy and are transcribing "multiple" phone conversations, said Brown.

The charges against Rice have drawn media attention from across the South and East Coast, which Brown attributed to Rice's "high-profile" status.

Rice was a chief of operations for former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton and has been an active member of the West Virginia Democratic Party.

He resigned last week from the Blue Ridge Outlet Center in Martinsburg and is now operating a consulting firm out of his Martinsburg home.

Brown denied, however, that police targeted Rice as a way to draw attention to Bedford County's Blue Ridge Thunder Internet porn operation.

"I'm sorry it had to be Mr. Rice," he said. "I don't take any pleasure in this.

"But there is a problem in this country with pedophiles, and it's our job to go after these cases. As far as the media coverage goes, well, that's part of the game."

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

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

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