Coach Acquitted of Two Felonies; Third Hangs Jury
Former Garden Plain football coach Todd Puetz, who was facing a possible sentence of five years in prison for electronic solicitation of a minor, has avoided jail time by reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Puetz pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of patronizing a prostitute and was given a 30-day suspended sentence by District Judge Ben Burgess. Puetz was not required to appear in court when Burgess signed the agreement on Friday.
Puetz was one of seven men arrested in October 2011 during a Wichita police sting that targeted men willing to pay to have sex with underage girls.
A Sedgwick County jury found Puetz not guilty in April of attempted aggravated indecent liberties with a child and attempted criminal sodomy. But the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the third and most serious count: electronic solicitation of a child under 16. Puetz faced a possible sentence of 55 to 61 months in prison on that charge.
During the trial, the jury heard recordings of several calls Puetz made to a phone being answered by an undercover police detective posing as a 15-year-old prostitute. Puetz testified that he innocently called the number looking for a massage after seeing an ad that the detective had placed on the backpage.com Internet website.
Burgess, the trial judge, declared a mistrial on the third count, and the case was placed back on the jury trial docket. The retrial was scheduled to begin June 24.
When asked why the agreement was reached, District Attorney Marc Bennett issued a statement through a spokesman that said, “After a lengthy discussion with law enforcement and careful consideration, the parties arrived at this appropriate resolution.”
Defense lawyer Dan Monnat said he was limited in what he could say about the case.
“After a great deal of consideration, all parties agree this is an appropriate resolution,” he said. “We are grateful to the Sedgwick County district attorney and the jury for permitting this resolution of the case.”
Of the seven men charged in the sting operation, it appears that only one will face prison time. The case against one of the seven was dismissed by prosecutors and another suspect was found not guilty by a jury. Puetz and three other defendants accepted plea agreements that allowed them to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges and avoid prison time. The seventh defendant pleaded guilty to a felony and is awaiting sentencing. That final plea agreement also involved an unrelated case that accused the defendant of soliciting sex from a child under 14 through an Internet chat room.
By Hurst Laviana