Andrews man convicted in minor solicitation

An Andrews man is facing up to 99 years in prison after an Ector County jury convicted him Thursday night of online solicitation of a minor for sexual contact or sexual intercourse and possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.

Dakota Beal, 25, was arrested Jan. 12 by DPS special agents and Odessa Police Department officers who were part of a sting operation designed to catch human traffickers and sexual predators.

The jury took an hour before rendering its decision. Judge Justin Low of the 161st Ector County District Court will determine Beal’s sentence following a hearing on Monday.

Beal faces five to 99 years on the drug charge and two to 20 years in prison on the solicitation charge. Under Texas law, the sentences must run concurrently.

According to evidence presented by Assistant Ector County District Attorneys Rikki Earnest and Kourtney Williams, Beal responded to an adult female profile set up on the dating app MeetMe by an undercover special agent. A short time later, the special agent and Beal began texting each other and continued their conversation even after the special agent told Beal he was a 14-year-old girl.

Jurors were given copies of the texts which showed that as soon as the agent said he was a 14-year-old girl, the conversation turned explicit with discussions of meeting and what acts Beal wanted to perform. Beal also sent the agent a photo of an erect penis.

Beal was arrested that night after officers observed him driving near Crockett Middle School where the two had arranged to meet. Officers found more than 4 grams of methamphetamine in his wallet under the seat of his car.

Jurors heard testimony that most meth users typically have less than one gram in their possession; drug dealers carry more than that amount.

A special agent said he observed Beal drive around the block three times before he pulled him over for having a broken license plate lamp and he verified Beal’s identity as the texter via his cell phone.

Defense attorney Kelsey Robbins told jurors her client was feeling insecure because his wife had been unfaithful in the past and he never believed the person he was conversing with was a 14-year-old girl. She also said Beal never had any intention of actually meeting the woman; he only went to the school to see if she had shown up.

Her co-counsel, Ben Florey, urged the jury to look at the transcript of the text conversation between the special agent and Beal.

“Ask yourself who is in control of this conversation. It’s not my client. It’s the officer making the case,” Florey said.

Florey said his client asked the undercover agent for pictures 75 times during their texting conversation because he had doubts he was a real woman.

Robbins reminded jurors there was no child pornography on her client’s phone, nor was there any evidence that her client is a drug dealer. Jurors had been given the option of finding Beal guilty of the less serious offense of possession of a controlled substance.

Williams told jurors it’s clear from the evidence Beal believed the special agent was an underage girl. The agent told him he was 14 and as the girl, he kept talking about his fear of getting in trouble with his mom, of having to get up in the morning to go to school and of his virginity and nervousness. Beal also told the agent he was 17.

Moreover, Beal confessed during his police interview and while talking to his wife following his arrest, Williams said. He also confessed to being a drug dealer to the police and his wife, she said.

Robbins told jurors that while Beal made admissions to his wife, it was only because special agents convinced him he was guilty of soliciting an underage girl after the fact.

Williams said Beal clearly intended to meet the girl for sex because he drove 30 minutes from Andrews and texted her all along the way, begging for nude pictures of her, Williams said. He also asked her if he really needed to stop for protection since he planned to have anal sex with her.

“He came to our community because he thought he hit the jackpot,” Earnest said. “He found a 14-year-old girl who would have anal sex with him.”

As for asking for the pictures, Earnest said, “He was asking for nude photo because he likes them.”