Cyber-investigation pays off

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Michael Willingham, 30, of Demopolis was arrested and charged last week as part of a joint investigation by the 17th Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office and the Demopolis Police Department for Internet related sex crimes.

During the investigation, Willingham solicited what he thought was a 14-year-old girl over the Internet.

Willingham transferred nude photos of himself, and arranged to meet the girl for sex. But he was instead met and arrested by investigators from the Demopolis Police Department.

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Demopolis Public Safety Director Jeff Manuel said their method was simple. They went online and let Willingham incriminate himself.

“We just got on there and he hit on us,” Manuel said. “We don’t ever get on there trying to trap anyone. We just let them come to us.”

District Attorney Greg Griggers said he hoped the arrest would serve as an example to others.

“I hope the arrest of this guy will send a message that we are not going to tolerate adult males preying on young females over the Internet,” Griggers said.

Griggers charged Willingham under Alabama state law with Child Solicitation for Immoral Purposes, and Transferring Pornography to a Child via Computer.

He was taken to the Marengo County Detention Center.

Willingham’s arrest comes on the heels of the passage of legislation to strengthen and modernize Alabama’s laws to fight criminals who use the Internet to find and prey upon underage computer users.

Attorney General King called child pornography and the solicitation of young people over the Internet “the ugliest and smuttiest of crimes.”

King added, “It robs our children of their innocence.”