A Michigan man who is alleged to have traveled from his home to Bryant to try and talk a 12-year-old girl he met online into returning to Michigan with him was arraigned Wednesday in federal court in Little Rock on one count of travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct.
Jeremy Robert Ward, 32, of Marine City, Mich., appeared Wednesday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Edie Ervin, who read the charge and appointed Toney Baker Brasuell of Little Rock to represent him in court.
If Ward is found guilty of the charge, he faces possible maximum penalties of 30 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a term of five years to life on supervised release.
"When I say those are the maximum penalties that may be imposed under the statute," Ervin said, "you also may want to be aware that the federal sentencing guidelines are likely to play a role in any sentence you receive in this case, assuming you are convicted so you may want to visit with your attorney about how the guidelines work and how they may impact your case."
According to a probable cause affidavit filed Nov. 7, on Oct 15, a 12-year-old girl who was riding her bicycle in Bryant was approached by a man in a pickup who was later identified as Ward.
According to the affidavit, the girl had met Ward online in September on Snap Chat and they progressed to having conversations by cellphone.
During the Oct. 15 encounter, which the girl recorded on her cellphone, the affidavit said, Ward attempted to persuade the girl to return to Michigan with him. He could be heard saying on the recording, "I was hoping to take you home," and "I just wish she [her mom] would let you go, especially since I drove all the way down here."
According to the affidavit, Ward and the girl were seen walking together on Oct. 15 on surveillance footage from a Ring doorbell camera in the neighborhood.
The next day, the affidavit said, the girl's father contacted the Bryant Police Department to make a report, telling police that he had seen that she was out of her allowed area through a cellphone application.
After going to that location, the affidavit said, the father found his daughter and Ward lying in a grassy area together with Ward's pants around his ankles, at which point he said Ward fled into the woods.
A search of the girl's cellphone turned up Ward's phone number and a search of Ward's criminal history revealed that he is a registered sex offender in Michigan, with a 2013 conviction on multiple counts of possession of child sexually abusive material.
The search also turned up the cellphone video during which the two had a conversation about whether Ward intended to kidnap her.
"Think I'm going to kidnap you or something?" Ward said on the video, according to the affidavit, to which the girl replied, "You probably are about to at this point."
Ward, who is currently in the custody of federal marshals, was escorted into the courtroom Wednesday shackled and in leg irons.
Brasuell entered a plea of innocent for Ward and requested a jury trial, which Ervin said is currently scheduled before U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker on Jan. 23.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacy Williams said the government opposed bail for Ward. Brasuell, who noted that Ward has an active warrant for his arrest out of Saline County -- which he said was likely in connection with the same conduct that led to the federal charge -- asked to reserve the right to a bail hearing at a later time.
"Of course, your client has the right to request a detention hearing," Ervin said. "He's not prepared, I gather, to proceed today on it, so does he just agree to detention without prejudice to request a detention hearing at an appropriate time?"
Brasuell answered affirmatively to which Ervin said she would note that and schedule a detention hearing later.