Preston Perry Muse, 30, of Krotz Springs, was sentenced to 18 years, with eight to be served in prison and 10 on probation, on a count of criminal attempt to commit aggravated child molestation. On a charge of criminal attempt to commit child molestation, Muse received eight years in prison and two years on probation.
Judge Jack Partain imposed the sentences to run “concurrent,” meaning Muse will serve eight years in prison with 10 years on probation. He was also given a $5,000 fine, 500 hours of community service and must abide by standard restrictions for sex offenders.
Muse’s attorney, Sam Sanders of Dalton, was asked if he believed the sentence was harsh since he argued an “abandonment of criminal enterprise” defense. Sanders said his client had already left the Super 8 Motel in Rocky Face where he was supposed to meet a fictitious underage girl due to a “crisis of conscience” and was going back to a residence in Atlanta when arrested.
“The court’s punishment was expected, given the circumstances and what the court has done in the past in these cases,” he replied. “And in that regard, (the sentence) was not any more harsh than any of the other cases made and tried. We knew he was going to get that ... but there were two jurors who came and testified for leniency, and I’ve never seen that happen.”
Sanders said four jurors came to Muse’s sentencing in June, which was continued for a pre-sentence investigation to hear witnesses. Two returned last week, one wrote a letter and another had an emergency on Friday, he noted.
“After having heard the evidence, they didn’t believe this (crime) warranted jail time,” he said, adding that an “expert” psychologist he called, James Stark of Ellijay, who has an office in Dalton, also gave testimony.
“He testified that (Muse) was not a sexual deviant, not a sociopath, he was not a predator and was not a pedophile, and that this behavior was likely aberrant, likely would not happen again and that he would not be a danger to the community to be released on probation,” said Sanders, who noted Muse was actually arrested on I-75 after he left the motel.
“He was pulled over by an unmarked police car ... I think he had a crisis of conscience and left (the Super 8 Motel),” he said. “There were no police cars on the scene, no marked police cars at the hotel, no uniformed police officers, so nothing to really indicate that police were involved. He got up there, sat there, decided he didn’t want to go through with it and he left.”
District Attorney Kermit McManus said in March that Muse was attempting to leave the parking lot of the motel when he was arrested.
“The defense of abandonment means that if the (potential perpetrator) fully and completely abandons the endeavor to commit the crime then that’s abandonment,” McManus said at the time. “To avail himself of the defense of abandonment he would have had to leave without the thought of them closing in on him. There were no cars there in the parking lot, and when cars started pulling in beside him, he started to leave. That’s the fear of being apprehended.”
Disagreement on arrest
Sanders disagreed with the prosecution’s case, and also the jury’s verdict.
“No, they never surrounded him anywhere,” he said. “They pulled him over on the interstate ... they never pulled back the curtain on their sting, he never went into a hotel room. He never took any action to signify that he was going through with it. He never put his foot down on the pavement to go and speak to anybody about making (the meeting with the fictitious girl) go forward. The first time he was approached by law enforcement was going south on I-75.”
McManus was out of town on Monday.
“That’s a legal defense,” Sanders said of abandonment of a criminal enterprise. “There’s not a whole lot of other situations where it would be applicable, but it certainly was here. I still contend that whenever the defendant puts forth an affirmative defense like abandonment, the state has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not abandon the enterprise. I don’t believe the state did it in this case. The jury disagreed with me. Well, at least the jury found him guilty anyway. But I think a lot of emotion goes into that rather than what the actual evidence is ... And in this case, I still don’t believe the evidence was there beyond a reasonable doubt.”
But Sanders admitted there are hurdles to overcome in what law enforcement agencies call “traveler” cases, where an individual answers an Internet listing or ad purporting to offer sex with an underage child when it is actually an officer or agent posting the information.
“The nuts and bolts of these cases are, you’ve got some email communications — every time they’re bad, the conversations are bad and if there are text messages, they’re bad — and bad meaning they’re sexually explicit,” he explained. “And they don’t look good. So you’ve got to go into trial admitting that they sent those, but then under the law — because of the fact that we don’t want to punish a person because they didn’t actually complete the crime, or they abandon the enterprise — they’ve got to be found not guilty.”
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