A former weapons inspector who became a thorn in the side of the US government in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq was facing a probable prison sentence last night after a jury in Pennsylvania convicted him of attempting to make sexual contact with a minor.
After two days of deliberation the jury in Stroudsburg found Scott Ritter guilty on six of seven counts relating to a conversation he had in a Yahoo internet chat room last year with a vice-squad officer who was masquerading as a 15-year-old girl called Emily. Ritter was released on $25,000 (£15,300) bail pending sentencing next month.
Among the guilty verdicts, five were delivered on felony charges, including unlawful conduct with a minor, criminal attempt to corrupt a minor and criminal use of a communications device. Each could result in a jail sentence of seven years, but the judge is expected to be less harsh.
Eight years ago Ritter, a former Marine, faced similar but less serious charges relating to alleged contacts between him and police officers posing as minors were leaked to the press. The charges were dismissed after he had completed six months' probation. Ritter stated at the time that he had been victimised by the US government because of the positions he had taken on Iraq.
Ritter was well known in diplomatic circles in the 1990s when he led UN efforts to ascertain the extent of Saddam Hussein's arsenal. He left his post in 1998 complaining that the UN and the Clinton administration were not being tough enough towards Baghdad. However, his profile became much higher when in the following years he began to insist that there was no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that an invasion of the country would be wrong.
Neither Ritter nor his lawyers commented after the verdicts were read in court on Thursday evening. Ritter had taken the stand on Tuesday, when he claimed that he hadn't believed it when he had been told during the chat that "Emily" had been only 15 years old. During the chat Ritter had displayed himself naked and masturbating, via a webcam. A video of the webcam images was shown to jurors.
The prosecutor, Michael Rakaczewski, said Ritter was convicted "by his own actions and by his own words on the stand". He added that "even though a person may know what they are doing is wrong and maybe are intelligent enough to try to avoid it and get away, sometimes the internal drive to engage in these types of deviant sexual behaviours is just too strong." He said that Pennsylvania had passed new laws enabling officers to try to catch perpetrators such as Ritter.
In closing arguments earlier last week, Ritter's defence lawyer, Gary Kohlman, acknowledged to the court that the jurors had probably been "troubled and offended" by the graphic chat and video of the conversation.
The officer who found Ritter online was a county vice detective. Some of the conversation between the two men was entered as evidence by the prosecution.
"You know ur in a lot of trouble don't u," the officer posted with the kind of shortened spelling often seen in internet chat postings. He went on: "I'm a under cover police officer u need to call me asap." Ritter responded to the revelation with scepticism: "Nah. Your not 15. Yahoo is for 18 and over. Its all fantasy. No crime... As far as I know, you're a 56 year old housewife."