Defendants Daniel Mark Ewart, Jr., 38, and Michael Sean Wills, 34, both thought they were communicating online with an underage girl.
In reality, the two Cartersville residents were engaging in sexually explicit conversations with undercover agents as part of Operation Paladin, a joint online child exploitation sting conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit and the United States' Department of Justice's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in Bartow County last fall.
Both men entered negotiated pleas of guilty to several charges in Bartow Superior Court Tuesday morning, with Cherokee Judicial Circuit Judge David K. Smith sentencing each to 15 years — with two years to serve in confinement, plus a $1,000 fine — for violations of Georgia’s Computer or Electronic Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act.
“This defendant did intentionally utilize a computer wireless service in an attempt to lure and entice a female identified as ‘Katie,’ a person he believed to be a child, specifically, 14 years of age, to commit the offense of aggravated child molestation,” Cherokee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Gower Side said of Wills. “There was an agreed upon meet location, and when this defendant arrived, law enforcement did arrest him.”
Wills’ sentence runs concurrent with a probation revocation. He will receive credit for time served dating back to Nov. 3, 2018.
“We are also asking for an alcohol and drug evaluation and [for the defendant] to comply with any recommended treatment based on the fact that some of the text messages that were recovered indicated drug usage,” Side added.
Public defender Ed Dettmar said he believes the State’s recommended sentencing was a fair resolution.
“We did have a preliminary hearing, and based on the testimony that came out there, I believe there would be sufficient evidence to support these charges,” he said.
As part of the terms of his sex offender special conditions of probation, Wills would be allowed to reside in a home with children “if related by blood and supervised at all times.”
Ewart was arrested Nov. 1 as part of the same sting operation. Like Wills, he believed he was engaging in communications with a 14-year-old named "Katie" and made arrangements to meet her in person.
“He did give an interview to law enforcement,” Side said. “In that interview, he admitted to graduating from high school with a special education degree and admitted to the communications in this particular case.”
As part of his sex offender special conditions of probation, Ewart is ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and comply with any “course of recommended treatment.”
Ewart also entered a negotiated plea of guilty to one count of public indecency in Bartow Superior Court, stemming from an incident that happened last summer in north Bartow.
“Back on July 31 of 2018, a complaint came into law enforcement that this defendant was urinating in public at the Food Lion in Adairsville,” Side said.
For that misdemeanor offense, Judge Smith sentenced Ewart to 12 months in confinement, which is concurrent with the 15-year, two-to-serve sentence he received for the Georgia Computer or Electronic Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act violations.
Ewart will receive credit for time served dating back to Nov. 1, 2018. Upon the completion of his two-year confinement sentence, Ewart will be released to a transitional center approved by probation officers and GBI sex offender registry officials.
Smith rejected a request from Dettmar that the defendant be allowed to reside in the home of a man with two underage sons.
“This defendant admitted that when he would reach out and speak to these people on these chatrooms, one of the people he came across was a boy and once he learned his age, he backed off,” Side said. “But for whatever reason, he continued to pursue it in the case that he is charged. My concern is that there has been an attempt before, and if there are young boys living in the home, my concern is that it’s too big of a risk.”
Dettmar noted that when the defendants made contact with the undercover agent online, the agent initially claimed to be a 38-year-old woman.
“These guys were not out trolling for children,” he said. “But where they made the mistake is when this fictitious person said she was underage, they should’ve walked away.”