Backlog in Riverside Courts delays Dateline Trials

“It’s uncommon to catch an Internet child predator in the act,” Hughes said. “And when we do, those are not people we feel deserve leniency.”

Nearly three years after 51 men were arrested in a “Dateline NBC: To Catch a Predator” Internet sex sting in Mira Loma, 19 of those cases remain unresolved, most of them headed for trial, adding to the backlog of cases filling county courts.

Defense attorneys blame the delays on the Riverside County district attorney’s office, which they say has refused to plea-bargain any of the cases.

“We have been trying to negotiate our two cases from the beginning,” said Los Angeles attorney Ken Lewis, who along with attorney Barry Sands, is representing defendants Kurt Horst Lemke, of San Bernardino, and Phillip Thomas Jaruhungsin, of Ontario.

“They turned us down,” Lewis said.

Lewis and attorney Gary Laff said a major issue is that the charge of attempted child molestation carries with it a requirement to register as a sex offender upon conviction.

Because the district attorney refuses to negotiate, defendants are left no option but to take their chance at trial, the attorneys said.

“Every lawyer with these cases would love to negotiate,” Laff said, “but we can’t get a plea that is reasonable.”

The result, Lewis said, is that cases he believes could have been cleared early in the process, drag on for years, adding to the crushing backlog of cases clogging Riverside County courts.

The county has one of the most overcrowded court systems in California.

Assistant District Attorney Chuck Hughes defended the decision not to plea bargain any of the “Dateline” cases.

“It’s uncommon to catch an Internet child predator in the act,” Hughes said. “And when we do, those are not people we feel deserve leniency.”

Hughes said the DA’s office would not enter into a plea agreement “just to move a case along.”

“We view these defendants as extremely dangerous,” he said.

Many of the other 32 cases ended with the men entering guilty pleas to the charges and receiving sentences ranging from eight years in state prison to 120 days to be served on weekends and probation.

Some, like Highland resident Victor Ray Wells, were convicted of attempted child molestation at trial.

Wells, 52, is due to be sentenced Jan. 9.

Another “Dateline” case was thrown out by Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dallas Holmes after the jury deadlocked, 10-2, in favor of acquittal.

One man died while his case was pending.

The men were arrested by Riverside County sheriff’s deputies during a three-day sting in January 2006.

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