A former U.N. weapons inspector arrested in an online sex sting insisted Wednesday that he believed he was trading sexually explicit messages with an adult, not an underage girl, and rejected prosecutors' claims that he has a history of trying to pick up minors over the Internet.
Scott Ritter, 49, of Delmar, N.Y., took the witness stand in his own defense and testified that he believed the person he met in a Yahoo chat room in February 2009 was an adult who was acting out her own sexual fantasy of being a minor involved with an older man.
"Did you go into an adult chat room with the intent of having an inappropriate conversation with a minor?" asked his attorney, Gary Kohlman.
"No, sir," Ritter said.
Prosecutors said Ritter, the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector in Iraq in the 1990s and later a prominent critic of the U.S. war in Iraq, exchanged explicit messages with a detective posing as a 15-year-old girl and performed a sex act on himself in front of a webcam.
Ritter briefly turned off the camera after the detective claimed during the chat to be 15, but soon turned it back on and continued masturbating.
Ritter, who is married with 18-year-old twin daughters, called his behavior "inappropriate" and "shameful" but said it was not criminal.
"At no time did I believe I was dealing with a 15-year-old," he said. "One adult is fantasizing about being an age they're not."
Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Michael Rakaczewski was incredulous.
"Are you serious?" he asked, bringing a swift objection from Ritter's attorney.
On cross-examination, Rakaczewski confronted Ritter with his 2001 arrest in New York on similar charges. In that case, Ritter twice arranged to meet people who claimed online to be underage girls but who turned out to be undercover police in Colonie, N.Y. The charges were eventually dismissed and the case was sealed, but prosecutors are using it to try to show Ritter has a predilection for underage girls.
Rakaczewski also pointed to transcripts of the 2001 and 2009 chats that seemed to indicate Ritter's belief that he was engaging in sexually explicit talk and behavior with minors.
"You can never tell anyone you did this," Ritter said, according to a transcript of one of the 2001 chats. At the beginning of the 2009 chat, an undercover officer typed to Ritter, "If you like younger, I'm fine."
Ritter told jurors he knew he was chatting with undercover police and set up the meetings so he would be arrested.
"I was severely depressed. My life was unraveling around me," he said.
Ritter is charged with unlawful contact with a minor and other counts in the Pennsylvania case. Closing arguments were set for Thursday.