March 19, 2019

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Ex-pastor found guilty in attempted luring

Winnipeg preacher claimed he was role playing, didn't believe 'girl' was 15

Supplied</p><p>Former Winnipeg pastor Nathan Rieger could face up to four years in a California prison for meeting with a minor for lewd purposes</p>

Supplied

Former Winnipeg pastor Nathan Rieger could face up to four years in a California prison for meeting with a minor for lewd purposes

SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIF. — Jurors took less than a day to decide they didn’t believe a disgraced Winnipeg pastor was role-playing when he attempted to meet a supposed 15-year-old girl for sex in Arroyo Grande, Calif.

Nathan George Rieger, who resigned from the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church after he was arrested Aug. 10, stared straight ahead with little emotion as the verdict was read Friday.

He had pleaded not guilty to a felony count of meeting with a minor for lewd purposes.

Rieger, 53, claimed when he took the stand in his own defence he believed the supposed girl he met online — actually an Arroyo Grande police detective — was also role-playing, and was actually in her late 20s or early 30s, based on photographs the officer provided.

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SAN LUIS OBISPO, CALIF. — Jurors took less than a day to decide they didn’t believe a disgraced Winnipeg pastor was role-playing when he attempted to meet a supposed 15-year-old girl for sex in Arroyo Grande, Calif.

Nathan George Rieger, who resigned from the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church after he was arrested Aug. 10, stared straight ahead with little emotion as the verdict was read Friday.

He had pleaded not guilty to a felony count of meeting with a minor for lewd purposes.

Rieger, 53, claimed when he took the stand in his own defence he believed the supposed girl he met online — actually an Arroyo Grande police detective — was also role-playing, and was actually in her late 20s or early 30s, based on photographs the officer provided.

Rieger, who remains out of jail after posting US$25,000 bail, faces up to four years in state prison when he’s sentenced next month. Due to his conviction, the Canadian citizen must register as a sex offender.

Following the verdict, defence lawyer Charles Magill said the case was based on alleged "thought crimes" or whether Rieger knew he was talking to a teenager — which Magill said are some of the most difficult to try in court.

Magill added he respects the decision of the jury but his client may pursue further legal options.

Rieger was accused of carrying on sexually graphic conversations with an Arroyo Grande police detective, who was working under the guise of a 15-year-old girl, over four days the week of Aug. 5, when Rieger was visiting the Central Coast region on vacation.

The trial started Dec. 3.

James Jolly, a detective with the Arroyo Grande Police Department assigned to investigate internet crimes against children, testified how he engaged in a chat with Rieger under the guise of being a 15-year-old girl who lived with her grandmother. He used photographs of a female Arroyo Grande police officer between the age of 26 and 34 to sell his ruse, Jolly testified.

Magill later argued to the jury no reasonable person would believe the woman in the photograph was 15. In his messages, Rieger told the detective he was 37.

In closing arguments Thursday, deputy district attorney Julie Antos told the jury Rieger’s explanation was an "absurdity" and he was using "mental gymnastics" to justify his actions.

"He wants to avoid taking responsibility for his actions," Antos said.

In his final argument, in an effort to show how information can be misconstrued, Magill showed jurors a scene from the 1992 comedy My Cousin Vinny, in which Ralph Macchio’s character is interviewed by sheriff’s deputies and accused of shooting a grocery store clerk.

"I shot the clerk?" asks Macchio, whose character is innocent.

"Yes," the deputy says. "When did you shoot him?"

In his filmed interview (played for the jury) with Jolly immediately following his arrest, Rieger says — and sounds as if he’s admitting to — going to the parking lot to meet with a 15-year-old for sex.

Several times, Magill accused Jolly of lying to Rieger.

During the interview, Jolly maintained the ruse, saying the supposed girl’s grandmother found her cellphone and the messages and turned it in to authorities. Jolly is seen in the video reassuring Rieger: "This isn’t the end of your life."

Jolly testified he kept the act up because his investigation didn’t stop at the interview.

Later, Magill called Jolly "incompetent" for sending Rieger a photograph of an adult woman and creating uncertainty about what was in Rieger’s mind when he carried on the messages with the supposed girl.

Magill said Jolly didn’t understand role-playing culture, and misunderstood Rieger from the beginning of their communication.

"The whole crime that was being committed was in (Jolly’s) mind," he said.

Magill told jurors while "it might piss you off" that a pastor — who also taught in some capacity — would arrange to meet a stranger for a tryst while on vacation with his family, "that’s not what he’s charged with."

Rieger is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 16.

— San Luis Obispo Tribune

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