Man Charged with Rape Attempt Posed as Teen
By Tatsha Robertson
WHITMAN — The 14-year-old girl was among millions of teenagers staring at their computer screens one night last year, tapping out instant messages to her friends, when she first met Jason Sterling in a chat room.
Presenting himself as an 18-year-old, he seductively wove himself into her web of friends by using his older-boy charm, his advice about the opposite sex, and his promises of unrequited love for her, according to family and police.
But soon, police said, Sterling, a 29-year-old recent law school graduate at Massachusetts School of Law in Andover, befriended the girl, moved near her home, and then, one day, broke into her house, dragged her to her bedroom, and attempted to rape her. Sterling has been charged with attempted rape and breaking and entering and more charges could be filed against him, police said, adding that they believe he may have contacted 20 or more children on the Internet.
Now, to the shock of the girl's family and some national specialists in cyber stalking, Sterling remains free on bail. He is scheduled to appear in Brockton District Court this month. He pleaded not guilty, saying he was invited into the girl's home.
Still, the country's leading specialist on cyber crimes is calling the case one of the most treacherous yet of cyber stalking—and perhaps the first time that a false Internet friendship has led to breaking and entering of a private home.
"This is what we have always feared," said Parry Aftab, the executive director of Cyberangels, a national Internet safety organization. "When I first heard about this case, I just gasped."
As the story continues to unfold in this old shoe-manufacturing town with a population of about 14,000, the mother of the alleged victim and the mother of the girl's best friend, who also met Sterling, said they hope the case gives parents a glimpse at just how vulnerable children are every time they click onto the Internet.
"I want this story to shake up parents and force them to stop sticking their heads in the sand," said the best friend's mother.
"It's been a nightmare," said the mother of the 14-year-old girl. "We are now trying to bring some normalcy to our lives. A parent can do but so much to protect their child."
According to police, Sterling, who did not respond to repeated messages from the Globe, still insists that he loves the girl. Police say he contends that he is not capable of hurting a child.
But authorities say that is just one of Sterling's many lies.
"He is a predator of children," said Whitman Police Detective Scott Benton. "The lowest form of human being there is. He used the computer as a tool, a tool to get sex."
Sterling and the girl met in the chat room about a year ago, said police and parents. The girl introduced him to her other friends, beginning a string of frequent chat room meetings between Sterling and five girls.
Police said Sterling's e-mails included intentional misspellings and youthful banter to disguise his age. He flattered the girls by giving them attention, police said.
"He tried to be some knight in shining armor, but when they find out he is closer to 30 than 20, it is sickening to them," Benton said.
One of Sterling's most infamous and seductive messages, according to police, was a daily note he sent out called "Jason's quote of the day." In the message, said police and one parent, he bragged about helping women in distress.
Sterling used another trick, said Whitman Patrol Officer Sean Reynolds, who is examining copies of Sterling's and the girls' e-mail messages: he would ask gossipy questions about one of the girls whenever she left the chat room.
"That's how he'd find out their weaknesses," Reynolds said.
But authorities said the Internet messages became more and more sexual. Even after the alleged attack, said police, he told another of the five girls that he would take her to Planned Parenthood, apparently for birth control. Another time, said police, Sterling said he wanted to perform oral sex on one of the girls but the girl was so young that she didn't even know what he was talking about.
Police said that months earlier, Sterling met with the 14-year-old girl at Whitman-Hanson High School, showered her with gifts, and eventually moved from his home in Lowell to an apartment just a half-block from her home. After the move, the girl's parents, realizing he was much older than he had pretended to be, asked him to stay away, police said.
On Dec. 5, the girl's parents filed their first restraining order against him.
But family and police said he did not stop trying to make contact with her. He continued to chat online and on the telephone with the girl's best friend. The best friend's mother said she was hesitant to allow her daughter to continue talking to Sterling on the telephone because she believed he was lying about his age.
"At first, he said his name was Brian," the mother said. "I knew something about him was wrong. I'm from the city. I'm from Southie and Dot Avenue—you can't fool me."
Sterling left the woman's daughter a tiny computerized organizer, as well as a bowl of cookies on her doorstep. She said he also bought several of the other girls presents, including a pager.
The best friend's mother said she finally met Sterling at a football game where he drove a Jeep and wore green highlights in his hair to look younger.
"I said 'You are 18?'"" she recalled. "I later told him, 'If you ever come near my daughter, or even look at her, I will kill you.'"
But police said he continued to pursue the other girl who he is accused of trying to rape.
According to documents filed in Brockton District Court, the alleged victim was walking home from school with a male friend last month when Sterling popped up behind her and tapped her on her shoulder. Although the girl said she repeatedly told Sterling that day to get away from her, she said he pushed her into her home as soon as she stuck her key into the lock.
The girl told police he dragged her up to her room, pinned her down: "Me screaming 'Get off me. What the hell are you doing?' she said in court documents. "He says 'I can give you everything when you're 18.'"
Then, according to police, the girl's mother walked in the home and called police, who arrested Sterling as he struggled to hide under the bed.
Since 1995, the FBI has arrested 515 people accused of luring children on the computer, said Peter Gullotta Jr., special agent in the Baltimore division. He said the number of cases continues to grow. In 1998, the agency investigated 1,500 new cases, double that of the previous year.
Aftab, the author of a book called "The Parent's Guide to Protecting Children In Cyberspace," said the FBI investigations don't include the rising number of Internet crimes being investigated by local law enforcement offices across the nation.
In the tiny Whitman Police Department, Sterling's personal computer is surrounded by a dozen brown bags of evidence confiscated from his home and car. A number of his credit cards spread across the table list different aliases.
Police say they have confiscated computer files, including child pornography and sex between humans and animals.
This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on March 10, 2000.
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