Moments after a federal jury convicted Jan P. Helder Jr. in August 2005, the judge set aside the verdict and ordered him acquitted.
U.S. District Judge Dean Whipple said Helder could not be guilty because the person he communicated with online was actually an undercover detective in Platte County, Missouri, not a 14-year-old girl as he had believed, reports AP.
Defense attorneys in similar cases around the country had raised the same argument as such stings became a common tool for trapping Internet sexual predators. Whipple's ruling was believed to be the first in which the argument succeeded.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis on Wednesday reinstated the jury's verdict against Helder and sent the case back to Whipple for sentencing. The appeals court said the critical issue was that Helder thought he was seducing a minor, not whether the minor truly existed.
Helder, 43, will not be eligible for parole.