The 77 people in Harris County who have had their convictions of online solicitation of a minor in Harris County vacated — or are seeking such relief — include two teachers, an applicant for a Harris County constable's office, and a genius who used a computer at the public library.
The Houston Chronicle earlier this month reviewed court records of people who've been notified by district attorneys in Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery counties that their convictions are overturned, thanks to a 2013 Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruling that found the online solicitation statute unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. Some of those eligible had already served time in prison and spent years on the sex offender registry.
But, as the Chron noted, "While [the statute] was found to be overly broad, a provision that makes it illegal to ask a minor to meet for sex still stands, if a meeting takes place. Because of the ruling, adults can legally talk in sexually explicit terms with minors on Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo!, Kik, Snapchat and other messaging services. Sharing or requesting nude photos and videos can still bring a misdemeanor charge."
For many of the convicts, the dismissal of those charges had little effect, as they were also convicted on separate charges, including possession of child pornography and sexual assault. For others, it was their only offense. In most cases, those charged were communicating with undercover officers posing as juvenile females.
We took a closer look at some of the cases, and here's what we found:
Daniel Albert Dean of Mesquite was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to five years deferred adjudication and a $500 fine. He died of cancer before completing those terms — and before he had the chance to have his conviction voided.
He was 54 years old when, using the handle "handsome_sexy_man_n_dallas," he entered a Yahoo chat room and struck up a correspondence with what he thought was a 13-year-old girl calling herself "veronicaluvstiger." In actuality, it was an officer assigned to the Houston Police Department's Major Offenders Division and Houston Area Cyber Crimes Taskforce, a multi-agency team that investigates Internet-based crimes.
Dean invited the officer to view him on webcam, asking, "does it make you wet and horny to see a naked guy with a hard on?" He also asked, "have you ever seen a guy cuuuum before," and stated that "it makes me very horny knowing you are watching me stroke my cock."
Dean followed up with a barrage of comments: "i luuuuv to eat wet pussy...woud luv to suck and lick on ur clit...have you ever had an orgasm fingering yourself?...i luv showing you my cock and balls and letting you watch me cuum."
This exchange came later:
Dean: would luuuuv to pull down ur panties and eat yours
Officer: wat a surprise...
Dean: especially on your tummy naked in bed...lol
Officer: well id prob disapoint u...
Dean: naaah...i'd make it feel soooooooo good you would have your first orgasm
Dean chatted with the officer eight days, stating that he was masturbating at work (identified in the officer's affidavit as a Dallas engineering firm) and planned to "play" with himself on the way home.
In 2006, Rocky Folley was applying to be an officer with the Harris County Constable Precinct 4 office when he was caught chatting online with an actual 14-year-old girl. Ironically, Folley was investigated by, and charged by, the very office he hoped would give him a badge. According to the investigating officer's affidavit, the 46-year-old Folley "impersonated a female college student" while chatting with the girl.
Folley described "explicit sexual acts" to the girl, including "oral sex and dildo penetration," according to the affidavit. He pleaded guilty and in 2009 was given three years deferred adjudication. He had completed the terms of his community supervision by 2014, when his conviction was set aside.
Curtis David Fournier was a 20-year-old Burger King employee in 2007 who apparently liked to visit his local branch of the Harris County Public Library in order to get online and check out the chat rooms. Fournier, using the screen name "angeldust420666pothead," struck up a conversation with what he thought was a 12-year-old girl — in reality, a dude named Frank Dart, s a detective with the Farmington, New Mexico, police department.
Dart was patrolling a Yahoo chat room using the name "dana shasta," when Fournier contacted him with questions such as "How big are your breasts" and "Do you have hair down there yet." He also asked if "Dana" ever had oral or anal sex, according to Dart's affidavit. Dart also wrote that Fournier called him "at an undercover phone," giving his name and saying he drove a blue mustang.
Fournier admitted that "he had intended to meet [Dana] for sex, but that he did not have the money to travel to New Mexico," according to the affidavit. Fournier pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years in prison, followed by 10 years' registration as a sex offender. Court records show that Fournier appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2014 to have his conviction set aside, and to be released from sex offender requirements. The Harris County District Attorney's Office agreed.
Two Pasadena Independent School District teachers — the only women on the list we reviewed — are included in the list of offenders who've had their convictions overturned.
In 2006, a 16-year-old student at Parkview Intermediate School told a Pasadena ISD investigator that he had "started a relationship" with his 30-year-old teacher, Holly Vansumeren. (The student was 15 at the time of this "relationship.") Vansumeren emailed the boy from her school email, and the two "engaged in sexual conversations...on numerous dates." They also spoke on the phone . In September 2006, they were supposed to meet at the school so she could take him back to her home to have sex.
Vansumeren pleaded guilty and was given three years deferred adjudication; however, she violated the terms and was sentenced to nine months in prison. She was also ordered to register as a sex offender for ten years. Her conviction and sex offender status were voided in 2014.
Lashawn Simmons was 41 when she entered into a similar "relationship" with a 15-year-old student at Beverly Hills Intermediate School. She was convicted of online solicitation of a minor in September 2013, one month before the statute was deemed unconstitutional, and sentenced to four years in prison. She was also charged with possession of child pornography, sexual assault of a child (14-17 years of age) and improper relationship with a student. She received four years each for those convictions. (All of her sentences were concurrent).
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Those accompanying charges stemmed from Simmons' sexual relationship with the 15-year-old, but also with two adult male high school students who said they had sex with her in 2012). Investigators also found photos on Simmons' cell phone of "adult and juvenile males with their penis exposed.
Court records do not indicate that Simmons has applied to have the online solicitation conviction set aside. But even if she did, it wouldn't do her any good.
For a provocative — and highly entertaining — look at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' 2013 ruling, we recommend reading Harris County Assistant District Attorney Jessica Akins' take, in which members of the high court pepper her with questions about Miley Cyrus twerking and the Twilight series.
"We must all remember that, as prosecutors, it is our primary duty not to see that a defendant is convicted, but to see that justice is done," Akins writes. "....Whether we agree with it or not, as the law currently stands, several defendants stand convicted (or placed on deferred adjudication probation) under an unconstitutional statute. It should be our duty to examine each case and determine the best course of action. Other future court decisions may make it clearer how these cases should be treated."