A 23-year-old Planada man faces a maximum of four years in prison after being convicted Thursday of having a sexually explicit conversation online with a person he thought was a 13-year-old girl -- but in reality was a Merced police officer.
A Merced County jury convicted Luis Miguel Munoz of two felony counts: attempting to communicate with a minor with intent to commit a sexual offense, and attending an arranged meeting with a minor for a sexual purpose.
Munoz landed on Merced police's radar after he posted an announcement on Craigslist, offering money for panties, according to Deputy District Attorney Monika Saini.
Pretending to be a 13-year-old girl, Detective Dan Dabney responded to Munoz's offer -- asking the defendant whether he wanted panties from the girl or her mother.
At first, Munoz requested panties from the girl's mother -- but then requested panties from the girl herself. The investigation progressed into a month-long conversation on Yahoo! Messenger and email. During those conversations, the defendant, under the impression he was talking to a girl, became explicit and discussed various sex acts he'd hoped to engage in with her.
"He started asking her to hang out,” Saini said. "Detective Dabney, (while) pretending to be the 13-year-old girl, never initiated (to do) these sex acts. Those were ideas (the defendant) came up with on his own, once the opportunity presented itself."
Police on two occasions arranged to drop off the panties for Munoz at a specific location, at a Merced park. Both times, police watched Munoz show up and pick up the panties.
Munoz then tried to make arrangements to have sex with the girl, agreeing to meet her at a McDonald's parking lot. Munoz showed up at the McDonald’s on Feb. 10, only to be arrested by police.
After his arrest, police found Munoz in possession of condoms and the panties he’d picked up in the park, Saini said.
Saini called the arrest an example of law enforcement’s proactive approach to apprehend predators before they harm children. "If we don’t do these kinds of proactive investigations, then we have to basically sit back and wait until a child comes in and has been molested," Saini said.
On the other hand, Deputy Public Defender Tony Green, Munoz’s attorney, argued his client was caught up in a dramatic fantasy created by police, and as a result made some bad decisions.
Still, Green believes that doesn't necessarily make his client a sexual predator. "Just because he was intrigued by the character, the jury shouldn't assume he would do anything with an actual 13-year-old girl," Green said.
Green also pointed out his client had no criminal background. Green said he’ll ask the judge to sentence Munoz to probation. "There's nothing in his background to suggest he’s any kind of a sexual predator," Green said.
Munoz is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Mark Bacciarini on April 18. As part of his sentence, Munoz will have to register as a convicted sex offender.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.