Sat, Feb. 22

Suspect in online sex luring case is 'on the fence' about plea deal

PRESCOTT -- Jeffrey Balys said he is unsure whether he wants to accept a plea deal in an online sex luring case, saying he doesn't think it is fair that he is charged with luring when he didn't actually go meet an undercover detective acting as a teenaged girl in an Internet chat room.

The case has played out over months. Balys, 46, of Cordes Lakes, had a contentious relationship with public defender John Thornton, finally asking to have him replaced.

His new attorney, Eric English, appeared to have a better rapport with Balys in court Tuesday. The appearance was scheduled for a Rule 17.4 hearing, which gives the judge time to inform the defendant what his "exposure," or maximum penalty, would be if he goes to a jury trial and loses; it was also time for a change of plea and sentencing on that plea.

Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley explained that, for the five counts he faces, Balys could end up in prison for 73 years if he loses and she imposes the maximum sentences.

The plea agreement he's been offered, for which he would plead guilty to two counts of luring a minor, would likely mean 10 years' sex offender probation.

But Balys had questions for the judge, centering on two issues: He didn't actually lure a minor, but instead chatted with a police officer; and other defendants, he believes, have been offered better deals.

"If chatting online is luring, then what's attempted luring?" he asked. "Thinking about it?"

Ainley said she couldn't answer that question.

Balys said he knew of two other men who had actually contacted the "teen" in person and were given lesser punishments. Ainley cautioned him against listening to "jailhouse lawyers," saying bluntly, "People in jail will lie to you." She also pointed out that, in her experience, others who were in similar circumstances had been sentenced to jail time.

Deputy County Attorney Steve Young told Balys that this was the best deal he was going to offer.

Saying his client was "on the fence," English asked for more time, which Ainley granted.

He will be back in court next month.

-- Scott Orr

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