Trial begins for Michigan man charged with enticing a minor in Arkansas for sex

He is charged with enticing a minor

(Stock image)
(Stock image)


Trial began Monday afternoon in federal court for a Michigan man accused of traveling from his home to Bryant to have sex with a 13-year-old girl he met on the internet.

Jeremy Robert Ward, 33, of Marine City, Mich., was charged in a federal criminal complaint filed Nov. 7, 2022, in federal court in Little Rock with travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct. A month later, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Ward on the same charge. A superseding indictment returned last October added six counts of production of child pornography and one count each of receipt of child pornography and enticement of a minor.

After winnowing the 58 members of the jury pool down to 12 jurors and 2 alternates -- which took just over two hours -- Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Fields and defense attorney Toney Baker Brasuell outlined their cases for the eight men and four women who were selected, after which Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Bryant called the government's first witness -- a California woman identified only as "C.H." -- who testified about being approached by Ward online when she was about 14-years-old.

Chief U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker admonished the jurors to avoid any newspapers or broadcast news items about the case, not to talk about the case with one another until deliberations begin or with anyone else until the trial concludes, and to report anyone who may attempt to draw them into conversation about the case.

"By the time you've heard the evidence," Baker said, "you will know everything you need to know about this case to render a verdict."

In her opening, Fields told the jury that Ward was convicted in 2013 in Michigan on one count of accosting a child for immoral purposes and three counts of possession of child sexual abuse material.

"Ten years later," she said, "the defendant sits in a courtroom charged with one count of enticement or attempt to entice a minor to engage in sexual activity, six counts of production or attempted production of child pornography, one count of receipt or attempted receipt of child pornography and one count of traveling across state lines to engage in sexual activity."

Fields said the jury would hear from the victim and from her father, "but before you do you'll hear from ... the victim of that 2013 conviction." Fields said the victim in that case, "C.H.," was actively engaged in an online gaming platform called Gaia, and that Ward contacted her through the gaming app using its random messaging function and that the two soon began talking over the phone.

"The defendant started asking for naked pictures of herself," Fields said. "She complied and started sending him nude images of her body."

She said Ward reciprocated by sending C.H. photos of his genitalia.

The activity was discovered, Fields said, by C.H.'s stepmother, who discovered some of the images on a laptop computer belonging to C.H.'s father.

On Oct. 15, 2022, Fields said, "this 32-year-old man got in his truck in Marine City, Mich. and started a 930-mile journey to have sex with [the victim]," taking her to a vacant lot not far from her home in Bryant where the two were discovered by her parents, who, she said, "went to that field and discovered their daughter was not alone."

After the girl's father reported the encounter to Bryant police, she said, a video found on Ward's phone was sent to the Marine City Police Department, who notified the Bryant police that Ward was a sex offender.

"As Jeremy sits here," said Brasuell in his opening, "he is an innocent man."

Brasuell told the jurors that Bryant and Fields would have to meet the burden of proof on each individual count in order for the jury to convict him on all counts.

"If you think they've met the burden of proof on one count, that doesn't mean they've met the burden on all of them," he said.

Brasuell said Ward didn't deny that he drove to Arkansas from Michigan on the day in question but said the girl, in two police interviews, never said that he had tried to touch her.

"What I expect is that at the end of this case there will be hesitation on your part," he said. "That hesitation is reasonable doubt."

As Fields called C.H. to the stand, Baker cautioned the jury that Ward was not on trial for the 2013 offense and the jury could only consider her testimony, "if you unanimously find it is more likely true than not true."

"You decide that by considering all of the evidence," she said, "and deciding what evidence is more believable ... a lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

On the stand, C.H., who is now 26, testified that she lives in Corona, Calif. and attends college there. Prior to that, she said, she spent five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and was honorably discharged at the rank of corporal.

She said the video gaming app Gaia, where she said Ward first approached her, allowed players to communicate with one another through cartoon-style chat bubbles.

"He asked me how old I was and I said 21," C.H. testified. "He made a joke about me flipping the numbers."

She testified that when Ward first asked her for a photograph, she sent one of her fully dressed standing in a field next to her home.

"He said something along the lines of, 'you're modest,'" she said, and eventually sent him photos of herself in the nude.

"Who's idea was that?" Fields asked.

"That was his," C.H. replied.

After their conversations moved to phone calls, she said, the calls consisted of, "basically phone sex," she said, and said that Ward resisted any attempts on her part to shift the conversation to more mundane topics, "but it would devolve back into a sexual nature," at his insistence.

C.H. said the two hatched a plan for Ward to drive to Virginia while she was on spring break at her mother's home.

"The plan was that he would drive to Virginia and he would somehow obtain a boat and come down the Potomac River," she said. "At the time my mom lived on base and I had a clear shot to a river bank. ... At the time the plan was that we would meet up, have sex and I would go home. I don't know what he planned to do after that."

"How old were you when you came up with this plan to have sex?" Fields asked.

"Fourteen, I believe," C.H. replied.

The plan to meet, she said, never came to fruition.

"I just want to make sure," Brasuell asked on cross examination, "Mr. Ward never came to Virginia?"

"He did not," C.H. replied.

"And he never went to California where you lived with your dad?"

"No."

"Thank you," Brasuell said, ending his cross examination with the two questions.

Prosecution testimony is set to resume at 9 a.m. today.


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