A judge has set a Dec. 20 hearing to discuss whether a 43-year-old Hereford man is competent to stand trial next year on felony sex charges related to his alleged use of social media to arrange to meet a non-existent teenager.
Wayne Eugene Hawkins was one of nine men arrested in Cochise County in February when they showed up at various locations after exchanging sexually explicit messages with someone they thought was a teenager. Instead, they had been communicating with specially-trained law enforcement personnel posing as children ages 13 and 14 in a multi-agency investigation called Operation Whiteout.
Hawkins, 43, was set to stand trial in July for luring a minor for sexual exploitation, but his court-appointed attorney raised questions about Hawkins’ ability to assist in his own defense or understand the three charges against him. Judge Laura Cardinal has set a Dec. 20 hearing on Hawkins’ competency.
While Hawkins awaits a decision on when -or even if- he’ll stand trial, one of the nine Operation Whiteout arrestees has already been released from prison, two others have signed plea deals, and the other five have trial dates set of next year.
Alexandru Dumitrascu left prison Dec. 2 after he pleaded guilty in May to one count of criminal impersonation for assuming a false online identity to defraud law enforcement. The class 6 felony resulted in an 11-month state prison sentence for the 33-year-old Romanian national, who received credit for the time he spent in jail after his arrest. He faces possible deportation due to his immigration status.
Meanwhile, Aaron Michael Garner will be sentenced Feb. 7, 2020 in Cochise County Superior Court after he recently pleaded no contest to luring a minor for sexual exploitation. Garner, 34, was arrested by Operation Whiteout members outside a Sierra Vista business when he arrived expecting to meet a 14-year-old boy.
Judge Cardinal has discretion on whether to send Garner to prison for 5 to 15 years or place him on probation for up to five years. Regardless of the sentence, Garner will be required to register as a sex offender.
Then on Feb. 20, 2020, Alexander True Norman will be sentenced at the U.S. District Court in Tucson for one count of attempted travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual activity. Norman, 23, faces up to five years in federal prison after admitting he used instant messages to share an image of adult male genitalia with whom he believed was a 14-year-old girl before he drove from Tucson to Sierra Vista to meet her.
The length of Norman’s sentence will depend on the results of a psychosexual assessment he must undergo prior to sentencing. Court records show he will also be required to register as a sex offender and remain under lifetime supervised release once out of prison.
Two other defendants -Scott Eugene Hamsher and Joseph Warren Montgomery- are awaiting trial in January in federal court for attempted enticement of a female minor, while Joshua Davilla is one of three men set to stand trial next spring in Cochise County Superior Court.
Davilla is charged with attempted sexual conduct with minor, luring a minor for sexual exploitation, and three counts of aggravated luring. He is also charged with felony flight from a law enforcement officer, aggravated assault with a vehicle, and endangerment after a Tombstone Marshal’s patrol vehicle was forced off the road as Davilla attempted to evade arrest. His trial starts March 16.
In April, Teofilo Lopez of Sierra Vista is scheduled for trial on charges of luring and attempted sexual conduct with a minor for purportedly using the Grindr app to invite a 14-year-old boy to a local hotel room. The “boy” was actually Sierra Vista Det. Tom Ransford, who took Lopez into custody after arranging to meet at a nearby bank.
Also set for trial in April is Kevin Leroy Echternach, who faces nearly 30 years in prison if convicted of all five felonies against him. He was on probation for a 2013 crime when arrested by the taskforce for purportedly conversing online with two law enforcement officers posing as separate 14-year-old girls.
Court record show Echternach, 59, rejected a plea offer that called for a 17.5-year prison sentence to resolve all five charges. His trial starts April 7.