By Gustavo Arellano
By Aimee Murillo
By Matt Coker
By Vickie Chang
By Matt Coker
By LP Hastings
By Michael Goldstein
By R. Scott Moxley
A frowning Paul Meyer, defense lawyer for accused child molester Jeffrey Ray Nielsen, stood before the jury during opening statements this week, gripped the podium with both hands and shook his head. His client—a onetime congressional intern and aide to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher—is not just innocent but a victim, he said. Meyer pounded his finger on the podium and railed about the "audacity" of the prosecutor introducing a small sampling of the hundreds of man-boy sex pictures Nielsen possessed at his home.
"Those pictures have nothing to do with this case," said Meyer, who fought to keep the jury from seeing the child pornography by arguing there is a "dissimilarity" between possessing kiddie porn and molesting youngsters.
Besides, said Meyer, Nielsen is no freak. "Don't be misled," he told the jury. "Jeff Nielsen is a conservative guy, responsible, caring and very family-oriented. He cares about people."
The comment drew Nielsen's attention. He stopped scribbling on a notepad, looked up and gave jurors an earnest expression. Beside Nielsen at the defense table Meyer had placed a prop: a petite, gray-haired, grandfatherly lawyer prone to dandruff-speckled suits. He's yet to argue a motion in three years' worth of pretrial hearings, but he provides a warm presence that counteracts the chilly specter of an accused pervert.
Deputy District Attorney Dan Hess began the Feb. 22 trial by explaining that Nielsen, 36, "actively sought out a boy, pursued this boy to carry out his own sexual perversion" on a 14-year-old freshman at Westminster High School. A police investigation confirms, Hess says, that Nielsen met the boy in an online gay chat room called men4sexnow.com, exchanged telephone numbers and met at a strip mall. Nielsen shaved seven years off his age, posing as a 26-year-old to the boy; the boy claimed he was 15. The two had sex on three occasions in 2003, Hess alleges.
"The defendant is free to do what he wants, but not with a 14-year-old boy," said Hess, who noted that a minor cannot legally consent to have sex with an adult in California.
But Meyer, whose bulldog style is similar to TV's Nancy Grace, claimed it was meaningless that the boy—he repeatedly called him, "Mr. John Doe"—knew not just that Nielsen kept stuffed animals on his bed but could specifically identify them.
"Did Mr. Nielsen and Mr. Doe meet?" said Meyer. "Yeah, they did. Did they go to his house? Yeah, they did. But it's a hopeful leap to believe that they must have had sex."
The defense version is that Nielsen was startled at the boy's age when they met, resisted the boy's sexual passes and chose instead to mentor him because, as Meyer claimed, "he's a kid who is out of control . . . wanting to run away from home . . . suicidal . . . hating his life."
"It's a kid who is pushing every button in that man [Nielsen]," said Meyer, who claims the boy "built a fantasy" about the sex to feel important.
Nielsen is a "successful lawyer," USC graduate, home owner and BMW driver who loves his dog "Page," Meyer often noted for the Newport Beach jury. What, he asked, would he see in a boy who "lives in a Westminster trailer park"?
"Doe got to get into a BMW!" said Meyer. "In his mind, he's got a boyfriend, a lawyer who is wealthy. Jeffrey Nielsen could get him out of his life!"
All his client did was take the boy for walks, offer him advice and return him home safely.
Will no good deed go unpunished?
"This is a teenager Jeffrey Nielsen thought he could help," said Meyer, who finished his opening argument with an attack on law enforcement, calling their work incompetent: "The police were eager to prosecute and arrest a lawyer. It makes news."
The trial continues on Feb. 26.
See all of R. Scott Moxley's coverage on the Jeffrey Nielsen case:
The sad chronicles of a man who wants a boy to love him
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
New molestation allegation dogs arrested conservative activist
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city