Defendant testifies in child sex exploitation case

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It is a story line fit for a movie: A man decides to leave his dead-end marriage in California and fly to Pittsburgh to find true love with a girl he met online. This is the picture that the defense painted Tuesday in Pittsburgh in the federal trial of Edward Leonard Finley Hilts, 68, of Fallbrook, Calif., who is accused of traveling to Pittsburgh in October 2009 for the purpose of having sex with who he thought was a 14-year-old girl.

The girl was in fact Detective Lynn Havelka, working undercover for the Allegheny County district attorney's office, and Mr. Hilts was arrested upon arrival in Pittsburgh and charged with attempting to entice a minor into sexual contact, traveling interstate to do so and transporting child pornography on his computer.

Mr. Hilts took the stand Tuesday, denying that he had any intention of having illegal sexual intercourse with a minor. He claimed, instead, to have planned on a weekend of bonding and taking in the local sights, saying that he was “confident” of his willpower not to escalate contact beyond “hugs and kisses.”

As for the hotel room he had booked, it had two twins beds, he countered. He also said that the condoms he had brought with him were left over from a previous encounter with an adult.

Prosecutor Craig Haller painted a different picture of Mr. Hilts, having earlier called to the stand an inventory control manager for the brand of condoms in question, who testified that the boxes of condoms found on Mr. Hilts were not shipped to the distributor until after the date which Mr. Hilts claims to have purchased them.

Mr. Haller also made light of transcripts of a separate online correspondence involving Mr. Hilts and and an adult couple, wherein Mr. Hilts indicates that he traveled to Thailand and had sex with a 13-year-old girl there, also mentioning plans to meet with another girl in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Mr. Hilts testified that while released on bond, he did in fact travel to Vancouver under an assumed identity, where he was found in a hotel room with a 16-year-old girl and arrested. According to Mr. Hilts, no sex occurred and they were found in separate sleeping bags.

During opening statements Monday, defense attorney W. Penn Hackney portrayed Mr. Hilts as a man nearing the end of his life, looking to find meaningful love that he hoped would result in marriage and children. Mr. Hilts testified to this effect, asserting that he was looking for a “long-term relationship” and that sex “wasn’t part of the plan” until the girl was of legal age.

Mr. Hilts also admitted to misrepresenting himself online to his would-be companion, saying that he was 43 years old, divorced and wealthy when in fact he was 63 at the time, still married to and living with his wife of 32 years and “on the road to being very poor.”

In regards to the charge of possessing child pornography, Mr. Hilts claimed that the images were automatically loaded onto his computer by virtue of his online membership to certain “newsgroups.” He conceded to the prosecution that given the suggestive names of the groups in question, he had known it to be “very likely” that illegal pornographic images would be present.

Closing statements will occur this morning, with jury deliberation to follow.


Albert Anderson: aanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1454. First Published June 17, 2014 7:09 PM


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