UPDATE 01/25/13 1:45PM: Navarro County Judge James Lagomarsino of 13th District Court ruled controversial Texas blogger Joey Dauben must serve three 10-year sentences consecutively for his conviction in connection with a 2007 sexual assault on a 14-year-old male teenager, according to a court representative.
After sitting through a surreal, six-day child sexual assault trial recently I came away with the knowledge that the least likely of people can fall victim to disaster if they are foolish enough to consume alcohol with a minor who legally cannot give consent to sexually activity.
The outcome of the trial of Joey Dauben, a former Texas blogger who specialized in rooting out and uncovering child pornography rings and sexual predators, left me dazed. For a year after his indictment I believed he would be acquitted, but two days into the trial I began to experience a sinking feeling that Dauben, 31, harbored an ugly secret that would soon send him to prison as a sexual offender.
It seemed impossible that the youthful, charming Dauben who came from a humble background and seemed so driven to be someone someday could succumb to a fate so sinister that it would destroy his life. But he apparently did, and nothing will ever erase the stigma he must now carry for the rest of his life as a registered sex offender. Certainly, he will never achieve his goal of attaining an elected office, a goal he had unsuccessfully sought several times before his arrest.
The most shocking part of the crime was that it involved a 14-year-old male teenager attending a church camping trip that Dauben helped chaperone. It took the seven-man, five-woman jury only two hours to convict Dauben and only slightly longer to sentence him to four 10-year stints in state prison with only one sentence to be probated.
To the best of my knowledge Dauben was straight, but apparently anything can happen late at night when two people are drinking alcohol alone. The once-promising writer who started off in high school as a sports reporter for a small town Texas newspaper an hour out of Dallas acknowledged to me after the verdict he was highly intoxicated on the night of the crime.
It didn’t matter that the teenager, now 20, testified he willingly participated in the sexual activity, and that he came from a broken, troubled home that probably contributed to him being alone late at night drinking with an adult 12 years older than him. Nor does it matter that the crime occurred in 2007, six years ago, when Dauben was 26. In Texas, there is no statute of limitations on the crime of child sexual assault, which legally defines any person younger than 17 as a child.
The age of consent varies from state-to-state, and it is incumbent upon the adult to be sure that the person is of legal age. When a teenager is traveling, the age of consent is 18, no matter what the legal age is in their home state. In Texas, it is also illegal to provide alcohol to a minor under the age of 21.
The Texas youth did not make an “outcry” about the sexual contact with Dauben until the summer of 2008, a year after it happened, when he told a friend, who told a pastor, who told the youth’s father. Then after that, it still took until the summer of 2011 for an active investigation to get underway led by the Texas Rangers and the Navarro County Sheriff’s Department of Corsicana, Texas.
After his arrest and indictment in December 2011, Dauben declared his innocence and alleged that he was the victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by the political establishment he regularly criticized on his blog the EllisCountyObserver.com. I found the thought of a political conspiracy a little far-fetched, but I considered the possibility that law enforcement officials had put a little extra effort in investigating an allegation against someone who rankled them.
During the trial, the youth’s mother testified she made numerous phone calls over many months’ time before she convinced a Texas Ranger to act on her complaint.
Another peculiar element of the saga emerged when I learned a sizable number of people had complained that the blogger unfairly and unjustly accused them of sexual assault and other crimes and improprieties. A group of people went so far as to start a blog where they could support each other and vent their rage about Dauben’s outrageous reporting.
Oddly, many other people Dauben befriended viewed him as “good-hearted” and a champion for them against government oppression. They could not believe he committed the crime of which he was accused.
It all came to a head in a district state court recently, and a made-for-television movie could not have proved more heart-wrenching. On one hand, the jury heard from the victim, his brother, and his mother. They heard about the confusion and distress and even the physical pain the victim felt after engaging in sex with Dauben. The victim, whose sexual orientation is unclear, also testified he received suggestive electronic messages that made him feel uneasy from Dauben after the assault.
On the other hand, Dauben’s anguished mother testified on his behalf in the evidentiary phase of the trial, and friends whom he had helped took the stand for him during the punishment phase of the trial.
When Dauben took the stand against his lawyer’s advice, the jury obviously saw a deeply troubled man who might be suffering from paranoid delusions and denial. He repeatedly broke down and cried on the stand. It was unclear whether Dauben’s mental problems began prior to the crime he committed six years ago or if they began later, slowly festering afterwards as fear enveloped him about the crime.
I later learned Dauben, whose lawyer described him to the jury as “small and not strong,” had himself suffered molestation from older boys and possibly an adult when he was young, according to him.
Now, Dauben is sitting in the Navarro County Jail waiting for the judge to determine whether the three 10-year-sentences he received will be stacked or if he will be allowed to serve them concurrently. Depending on the decision, the earliest date he will be eligible for parole will be after serving five years or 15 years.
In addition to the four felonies of which he was convicted in connection with the child sexual assault, Dauben was convicted of a fifth felony in November 2012 for fraudulent use of identifying information in connection with a story he wrote falsely accusing a man of sexually assaulting his own child. That conviction led to a five-year probated sentence.
It’s hard to make sense of Dauben’s relentless, reckless pursuit of villains unless his fear about being discovered led him to it in an effort to divert suspicion from himself. In turn, the subjects of his reports and others in the community probably became fearful of him, leading to complaints to law enforcement authorities and the Ellis County charges. It became a vicious cycle that eventually ensnared Dauben.
The former blogger, who once said in an interview in a Dallas newspaper that he hoped one day to run for and be elected President of the United States now faces the prospect of spending what could have been the most productive years of his life in the hell of an Texas prison.
Some of the last words Dauben said to me in the courtroom before the bailiff led him off in handcuffs were, “I’m going to take responsibility for this.”
In the end, one night of reckless abandon ruined two people’s lives – one a young teenager, the other a young adult -- and neither one will ever be quite what they might have been had they not lingered inappropriately on the shore of a Texas lake one sultry night drinking alcohol six years ago.
David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered all phases of the news for the mainstream and alternative media for more than three decades.