SF reporter on trial p.16

By: Joe Strupp Accused of attempting to solicit sex from teen online

ASan Francisco freelance journalist arrested last summer after setting up a meeting with a 14-year-old boy he met on the Internet will face a felony charge of attempted lewd behavior when his trial begins this week.
Although 42-year-old Bruce Mirken claims he never planned to engage in sexual activity and set up the meeting only to gain information for a story about gay youth and the Internet, police who arrested him in a sting operation say evidence shows he planned to have sex with a minor.
"We take all crimes seriously, especially those that could potentially harm children," says Sacramento County deputy district attorney Perry Sims, who will prosecute the case. "We will let the evidence speak for itself."
Journalism advocates, however, are criticizing the arrest and upcoming trial, saying it could hurt reporters' future efforts to gain information.
"The First Amendment has to provide protection for news-gatherers," says Jane Kirtley, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "They have to have the ability to do reporting."
Mirken, who faces one charge of attempted lewd act with a person under 14, is slated to go to trial on April 14. The gay freelancer, who has written extensively for a number of Northern California publications, has been out on $100,000 bail since his arrest last July. Mirken, who often writes for the San Francisco-based Bay Times, a popular gay weekly, says he was researching a story about gay youth online when he came across a bulletin board message purportedly from a gay youth seeking an older man. After exchanging e-mails with the person who placed the message, Mirken says he wanted to meet the youngster for an interview about the dangers of posting such messages, but did not want to reveal that he was a reporter.
"I didn't want to scare him," Mirken says. "But I decided that I ought to meet the kid to see what was happening. I had gotten enough bits and pieces to think that there was an interesting story about a lonely, isolated kid who seemed to have been involved in a sexual relationship very young."
Mirken says the youth asked to meet him in a park in Sacramento, about 90 miles from Mirken's San Francisco home. He says the youngster also asked him to bring condoms and lubricants, but Mirken says he showed up with only a notebook and pen. When he arrived, Mirken says, he saw someone who appeared to be a teenage boy and approached him. When he did, he realized the person was a grown woman posing as a youngster.
Moments later, Mirken says, several police officers appeared and grabbed and handcuffed him. After being held for about 11 hours, Mirken says he was released on bail and initially charged with two felony counts, one of which was later dismissed.
Mirken's trial comes one month after veteran radio reporter Larry Matthews received an 18-month sentence for trafficking in child pornography online. Matthews, who contends he was researching a story on child pornography that he hoped to sell, pleaded guilty in a Maryland court to two counts last year but has appealed the convictions.
Mirken's attorney, Bruce Nickerson, says the charge against his client has no basis for prosecution and believes it should have never made it to trial.
"The law is that it requires a specific intent to do the act and they do not have that here," Nickerson says. "A person is free to pursue a story, and what Bruce did is not against the law."
Bay Times editor Kim Corsaro called the charge against Mirken a nightmare. "You have to check situations out to research a story," she says. "From a journalistic standpoint, what else is he supposed to do?"
Sims, who says he cannot comment on the evidence in the case, says only that he believes there is enough to convict. "We're always confident," he says.
Kirtley says Mirken's arrest should not deter reporters from digging up information on stories, but stresses that reporters should not believe they are above the law.
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?(Copyright: Editor & Publisher April 10,1999) [Caption]


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