A man convicted of hooking up with a 13-year-old boy can’t argue that he was reasonably mistaken about the age of the boy, even though the teen had claimed he was an adult on a gay dating app, New Jersey judges said Wednesday.
William F. Saponaro Jr., a 57-year-old now living in Philadelphia, was busted in 2012 after having a threesome in his home with the teenager who had used Grindr to connect with then-24-year-old Mark LeMunyon.
LeMunyon, a certified substitute teacher at the time, then roped Saponaro into having the tryst at the construction company owner’s Cape May home. The two men were arrested several days later after the boy told his mother what had happened.
The appellate decision on Wednesday was the latest legal loss for Saponaro. In 2015, a federal judge dismissed Saponaro’s negligence lawsuit against Grindr.
Saponaro, who had been charged with second-degree sexual assault, pleaded guilty in 2015 to third-degree endangering the welfare of a child and fourth-degree criminal coercion after a judge denied his attempt to dismiss the charges based on his reasonable belief that the victim was an adult.
He appealed, however, and argued that the law is unconstitutional because it denied him the right to defend himself.
Saponaro insisted that he believed the youth was 18 years old because that’s what the boy had said, the teen looked 18 to Saponaro, and Grindr required a credit card to subscribe to the service.
New Jersey law says that “it shall be no defense to a prosecution for a crime … that the actor believes the victim to be above the age stated for the offense, even if such a mistaken belief was reasonable.”
Judges on Wednesday said the law does not violate due process, defending it as “a strong deterrent to sexual attacks on those children.”
The state’s courts have rejected mistaken age defenses since a 1969 state Supreme Court ruling.
“Our Legislature recognized that children should be protected – without regard to a perpetrator’s knowledge of the minor’s age – from sexual assaults,” judges said Wednesday in their appellate decision.
“The sexual assault of a child is not passive conduct. It is not blameless. Sexual offenders cannot reasonably plead ignorance of a victim’s age. The face-to-face violation provides ample notice to the perpetrator that the victim is a minor.”
LeMunyon, meanwhile, pleaded guilty in 2013 to conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child and criminal sexual contact, for which he was sentenced to 18 months in county jail and three years probation. The State Board of Examiners revoked his substitute teaching credentials.