Sexually explicit text acquittal in Craig breeds anti-sexting law
Victims in the recent case of Justin Dean Folley — who was acquitted in December on 10 felony counts of sexual exploitation of a child — may get some kind of justice at a committee hearing in Denver on Thursday, Jan. 31, for a state bill that aims to criminalize the act of teachers sending sexually explicit messages to their students.
The case has been in the public eye since Folley’s arrest on Aug. 17, 2017.
According to prosecutors, Folley elicited three nude photographs of a female student over the course of a sexually explicit text message exchange and sent her a video of himself masturbating.
A Moffat County jury heard in graphic detail about how Folley systematically groomed one of his female students — who, at the time, was 14 or 15 years old — through a series of sexually charged text message conversations that continued throughout the girl’s freshman year of high school.
The jury was given 30 pages of screenshots detailing the exchanges — exchanges in which Folley told the victim of his desire to have sex with her, asked her “how bad” she wanted it to happen, and quizzed her as to whether she had ever masturbated.
But those messages contained no direct evidence of images or video, and as the defense reiterated during jury selection and throughout the trial, it is not against the law for an adult or a person in a position of trust to send messages of a sexual nature to a minor, so long as those messages contain words only and not images.
The 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office could not provide copies of the alleged images or video themselves, as they had allegedly been exchanged over Snapchat, an app that automatically deletes images after a short viewing window.
It took a jury about 2 1/2 hours to acquit Folley Dec. 10.
House Bill 19-1030
Still, Folley’s acquittal could be the last of its kind in Colorado, if House Bill 19-1030 is passed into law. Earlier versions of the bill — which has come to be known as Colorado’s “sexting bill” — would make it a Class 6 felony for any “person in a position of trust” to send sexually explicit texts to someone younger than 18 years old.
Many in the Craig and Moffat County communities helped lead the charge to enact HB 19-1030 and began their work in the weeks following Folley’s acquittal.
“I was made aware of the Justin Folley case soon after he was acquitted,” said District 3 Colorado State Board of Education member Joyce Rankin in an email Tuesday. “Moffat school Superintendent Dave Ulrich gave me a call and told me of the situation and concern of the community. He asked what we could do and how he could help. I read the articles posted online and, because I represent Moffat County on the State Board of Education, I contacted some Western Slope legislators to see if any of them had not reached their bill limit for this legislative session. Thankfully, Rep. Matt Soper (R- Delta) agreed to carry HB 19-1030 this year. With bipartisan support, I believe we have a good chance of passing this bill this year.”
Ulrich, also reached by email Tuesday, said he’s glad Colorado’s legislature is taking action.
“One of the district’s belief statements is that everyone deserves a healthy and safe environment,” Ulrich said Tuesday. “Ensuring the exchange of sexually explicit text messages between a person of trust and a minor is criminal offense provides a definitive line for appropriate behavior of our staff toward students.”
Reached via email Wednesday, State Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Cortez), Craig’s new state senator and co-sponsor of Colorado’s HB 19-1030 sexting bill, said the bill fixes a legal loophole.
“This bill would make it unlawful for a person who is in a position of trust with a child, like a teacher or coach, to send explicit sexual communications through electronic means,” Rankin said. “It also specifically defines a child as a person who is under the age of 18. Current statute does not cover children above the age of 15, and this bill fixes that.”
But some think Colorado’s “sexting bill” doesn’t go far enough.
“I believe a Class 6 felony is far too light, as this bill specifically incorporates the wording ‘a person in position of trust,'” said Daniel Bingham, a crime victim services advocate who provides support for victims in Moffat County in cases such as Folley’s. “The violation of someone purposely engaging in immoral acts upon persons they have been entrusted to protect should carry a minimum of Class 4 felony.”
A Class 6 felony is the least-serious felony in Colorado and carries a penalty of one year to 18 months in prison and a fine of $1,000 to $100,000. A Class 4 felony is punishable by two to six years in prison and a fine of $2,000 to $500,000.
Still, Bingham said HB19-1030 is better than nothing at all.
“My hope is that this law will finally establish a firm safeguard to protect children in the future from men and women that prey upon the vulnerable,” Bingham said. “We see far too often children emotionally and physically damaged for the rest of their lives and have difficulties discerning what a normal relationship should be, all because they were the innocent victims of someone that they were told was someone safe.”
Rankin said the bill is a good start and will be a continuing topic for Colorado’s schools.
“I do believe this bill will be known and discussed throughout the education community,” Rankin said Tuesday. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
Rankin also gave Ulrich credit for getting the ball rolling in the right direction.
“First, I’d like to commend Superintendent Ulrich for picking up the phone and making me aware of the situation,” Rankin said. “As a follow-up, he has offered his help in moving this along, and we’ve stayed in touch every step of the way.”
HB 19-1030’s hearing in Denver will be held at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, in the Judicial Committee hearing room inside the House Judiciary, 200 E. Colfax Ave.
Ulrich and local Moffat Count School Board member Chip McIntyre are expected to travel to Denver Thursday and testify before the committee.
Moffat County residents who would like to follow the proceedings can visit the Judicial Committee’s website at leg.colorado.gov/committee/granicus/1474881 . The video will be archived on Friday and can be found on the legislature’s website.
Lauren Blair and Jim Patterson contributed to this report. Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or at email@example.com.