A day in court —
Founder of Defense Distributed finally appeared in court after his arrest last fall.
AUSTIN, Texas—This morning, almost one year after an initial warrant for his arrest went out, Cody Wilson stood stoically in front of Judge Brad Urrutia in the 450th Criminal District Courtin Travis County as cameras and a packed gallery watched. The founder and former director of firearms technology company Defense Distributed soon pleaded guilty to lesser charges stemming from an August 2018 incident with a female minor.
Sporting a dark grey suit, Wilson’s previously defiant public persona was nowhere to be found. Instead, the entire appearance proceeded matter of factly, and it was an event of few words. Judge Urrutia read the charge changes and went over the situation with Wilson and his attorneys; Wilson’s team would respond briefly with “Yes, your honor.” Wilson arrived early alongside his attorneys, but within approximately a half hour it was all over. A plea had been entered, and his team left the room as video cameras trailed behind.
Prior to appearing in court, Wilson and his attorneys, F. Andino Reynal and Joseph Turner, bargained with the state of Texas to amend charges against the 3D-printed gun activist. Instead of sexual assault, Wilson stood accused of injury to a child, a lesser felony than what he originally faced. His guilty plea this morning now comes with a recommended seven-year probation period during which Wilson must register as a sex offender.
Wilson’s formal sentencing has been scheduled for September 12. If the plea is accepted by Judge Urrutia as anticipated, Wilson will avoid prison in favor of that multi-year probation. According to the plead document (PDF), “injury to a child” is a third-degree felony, punishable by a term between two and ten years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and a fine up to $10,000.
As theAustin-Statesman Americanreported, Wilson forfeited his personal firearms last year when he wasreleased from jail on bond. Under the terms of his probation, he would not be able to own a gun during that period.
Later in the day, Travis County Assistant District AttorneyJoe Frederick spoke to the Associated Pressabout the state’s decision to amend the charges. He said prosecutors made the decision after extensive meetings with the victim and her parents.
“After several months of going through the case and talking with them about what they desired and what they wished, we felt that this was a satisfactory conclusion to the case,” Frederick told the AP.
Frederick also sent Ars clarification about the terms of Wilson’s plea deal (given the text of the document can be hard to parse). In addition to the probation and sex offender registry, Wilson will agree to TCAR (Treatment and Counseling as Recommended by the Department of Probation), perform 475 community service hours, and pay a $1,200.00 fine. He will not be allowed to have any unsupervised contact with minors, and he will consent to keystroke/remote monitoring by the department “on any type of device he may access that could access the Internet.”
What brought Wilson to court today
According tocourt documents, authorities believed Wilson solicited the underage girl from a website called SugarDaddyMeet.com and eventually engaged in sexual acts with her on August 15, 2018.News of the arrest warrant for Wilsonbroke about a month late as he was out of the country in Taiwan. He seemed to be evading capture by posing as a US college student, but authorities in the US and Taipei eventually collaborated to apprehend Wilsonand bring him back to the US. Wilsonresigned from Defense Distributedsoon after, and the company pledged he’d have no involvement going forward.
In December 2018, the State of Texas finally formallyindicted(PDF) Wilson on multiple charges: four counts of sexual assault of a child, two charges of indecency with a child by contact, and two charges of indecency with a child by exposure. The charges were allsecond-degree felonies punishable by up to 20 yearsin prison and fines of up to $10,000. Those charges were lessened prior to this morning’s initial court appearance.
In his original five-page affidavit (PDF), Austin Police Department detective Shaun Donovan outlined the initial evidence against Wilson from the night in question. It included surveillance videos from what is believed to be a coffee shop rendezvous point and the hotel where the incident reportedly took place. Police found a Black Ford Edge SUV in these videos registered to Defense Distributed. Later, they obtained “digital valet receipts” from the hotel showing the SUV was returned to Wilson later that night. Police also discovered hotel records pinpointing Wilson as the lone registered guest for the room in question on the night of the alleged incident.
Subsequent warrants only gathered more information. Thefirst (PDF) wanted all stored files about the Sanjuro account from SugarDaddyMeet, including things like images, file transfers, Web access logs, credit and billing information, IP addresses, and more. A secondwarrant(PDF) focused on Apple, asking for device and account information for Wilson’s iPhone, photos and videos stored to his iCloud account, and iMessage and SMS messages between Wilson and the girl. And a thirdwarrant (PDF)asked for permission to seize photo evidence of Wilson’s groin and upper leg area, since the alleged victim initially told authorities she and Wilson exchanged nude photos and the affidavit states Wilson has a “uniquely identifiable skin condition.”
AsAustin-American Statesman criminal reporter Ryan Autulloreported, Wilson’s lawyers had been insisting Wilson did not know the girl was underage. SugarDaddyMeet requires users to check a box stating they are 18, but Texas law puts it on the adult to verify the age of consent (which is 17 in the state).
This was a developing story. Ars updated the post throughout the day to include detailsdirectly from Wilson’s submitted plea agreementand comments from Travis County Assistant District Attorney Joe Frederick.
Listing image by Nathan Mattise