Former Mobile County Commissioner Freeman Jockisch may spend up to a decade in prison after a jury found him guilty of attempting to lure a child for unlawful sex in federal court April 17.
After a daylong trial, the jury spent close to three hours deliberating the facts. They returned to the courtroom with unanimous support for the case made by Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Murphy. Jockisch, who served on the commission for 11 years, was taken to Mobile County Jail and will remain there until his sentencing hearing July 15 at 1 p.m.
A previous federal conviction for lying on tax returns and ethics forms will be factored into his sentencing calculations. That conviction landed him in jail for 33 months. The current charge carries with it a minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
Jockisch was arrested in November 2013, after traveling to meet someone he believed to be a 15-year-old girl.
The prosecution’s only witness was Detective James Morton, who testified that as a part of the Saraland Police Department’s sex crimes unit, he posted a vague Craigslist ad on July 2, 2013, on the website’s “Causal Encounters” section entitled “Bored to Tears.” The body of the ad read, “I’m bored and everybody is out of the house till Saturday. So you can like hit me or whatever. I may have a friend come over and hang but it ain’t the same.”
Just 14 minutes after the ad was posted, the detective received a reply from Jockisch requesting a photograph and suggesting, “let’s do it.”
Over the next five hours, the detective and Jockisch emailed each other, with the 69-year-old Jockisch sending a photo of himself cradling one of his grandchildren and the detective repeatedly representing himself as a 15-year-old girl. At one point, the detective sent a photo to Jockisch of a young-looking blond female with bright red lipstick.
Later, Jockisch wrote that he wanted to “make love to” the girl, but admitted being “scared” of the possibility of going to jail. The detective eventually broke off communication.
But in November, Morton posted another ad on Craigslist.
“My Halloween was so lame,” he wrote. “Now my weekend and this week just got boring before it even like starts. There ain’t nothing to do or anyone who want to do anything. Bored.”
With no way to know the ad was posted by the same individual, Jockisch replied again. A flurry of emails ended with no contact between the two, but did establish that Jockisch was communicating with the same “girl” from July.
Again, the detective cut off communication; but days later, he received an unprovoked email from Jockisch hoping to continue the conversation.
Morton eventually began coordinating with FBI agent Laura Field, who pretended to be the girl over the phone. Together, they directed Jockisch to a Saraland apartment where he was detained and questioned.
Among the evidence presented to the jury was a videotape of Jockisch’s original interrogation, where after receiving his Miranda Rights he told Morton, “I told her I would come over and I don’t know what she had in mind. I said I’d love to make love to you.”
Jockisch also admitted to the detective he realized the poster was a teenager, but asked for photo of her whole body because “I wanted to make sure she was a woman.”
Defense attorney Jeff Deen said Jockisch initially thought he was communicating with an adult. The personal ads on Craigslist are accompanied by a warning indicating they are only for use by those over the age of 18, and the detective’s ad was posted under a subsection called W4M, or “woman for man.”
Deen also noted that in the second set of email exchanges, when the girl identifies herself as 15-years-old, Jockisch no longer mentions anything about sex.
The defense’s argument centered on the section of Craigslist the officer’s original ad was placed in, but also relied heavily on character witnesses from personal and professional life. Jockisch’s wife, Debra, said she knew about her husband using Craigslist to talk to troubled girls, and gave an example of a girl her husband had met online who needed money to fix her car.
“He gave her $40,” she said. “He said, ‘She was going to sell her body, but I put a stop to that.’”
Jockisch cited that particular instance in his interview with Channel 15’s Andrea Ramey the day after his initial arrest. A phone conversation from the Saraland police station between Jockisch and his wife was also entered as evidence. In the tape, Debra tells her husband she knew he had lied to her.
When asked to clarify her meaning, she said, “He lied to me because he promised me he would always have someone with him. I told him this is dangerous because no one would ever believe what his intentions were.”
Mrs. Jockisch maintained that her husband was using Craigslist to “minister” to girls throughout the prosecution’s cross-examination.
“His (Craigslist) name was fjockisch,” she said. “If you’re going to do something wrong, why use your name?”
In her closing argument, Murphy said common sense would tell you Jockisch was referring to sexual activity when he responded to a young girl’s ad on Craigslist with “send me a picture” and “let’s do it.” Deen said his client meant he wanted to talk to the girl.
“When people show up on ‘To Catch a Predator’ they have flowers, beer and condoms. My client showed up with nothing but an Alabama jersey,” Deen said.
“If you look at the emails versus the ads, he doesn’t say ‘Here’s my yacht and here’s all these clothes I can buy you,’ he sent a picture of his grandkid.”
Deen said Jockisch couldn’t have enticed a child because the Saraland Police Department put the original ad up and did so in a section of an adults-only website known for casual sexual encounters.
“How do you prove intent?” Deen asked the jury.
Murphy said Jockisch induced the situation when he said, ‘let’s make love.’
“Why would someone troll Craigslist to minister to women and keep it a secret from an organization they already work with that helps women?” Murphy asked the jury. “And why does he keep asking her to send him a picture? Is he not going to minister to her if she’s ugly?”
Murphy also asked the jury why Jockisch would have mentioned being put “under the jail” on the phone with agent Field, who was portraying the 15 year old, if his intentions were only to talk.
“We weren’t asking the jury to look at it in an emotional way, we were asking them to look at the facts,” Murphy said. “I think it was easy to see there were differences in the interview he gave to police and what he said to (Channel 15).”
When asked if she thought Jockisch was a predator, Murphy said, “Facts speak for themselves.”
Deen disagreed, and said his client plans to appeal the court’s decision.
“Here he is 70 years old and looking at a minimum of 10 years in prison just for screwing around on the computer,” Deen said. “Nobody likes the sexual exploitation of children, but these ads are being placed on a website for adults and for sexual encounters. They’re just baiting people in.”
The ruling devastated Jockisch’s wife. She said the court wouldn’t allow her family to tell their side of the story, including details pertaining to her husband’s physical and mental health.
“He’s got dementia, medical programs, heart problems and dizzy spells. He’s fallen in the river five or six times, and they wouldn’t even let the jury know that,” Mrs. Jockisch said. “I don’t feel that justice has been done.”
The couple has been married for nearly 50 years, and she said her vows included for better or worse.
“My question to you is, who knows Freeman better — you, the news media and the people in there, or me?” she asked following the trial. “I know his heart and his soul. He’s my heart. He’s my one true love, and I’m his. No matter what I’ll be with him, wherever he is.”
Following the July sentencing hearing, Deen said Jockisch plans to appeal the court decision, but will be represented by a different attorney.
Gabriel Tynes contributed to this report.
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