BEDFORD — An ex-Liberty University professor was found guilty on Wednesday of five counts of child sex solicitation after messaging who he thought was a 13-year-old girl.
Stephen James Kilpatrick, 64, of Forest, sat through a two-day trial in Bedford Circuit Court before the jury reached its verdict.
His charges stemmed from communication he had from November 2017 to June 2018 with an investigator from the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), who was posing as a local 13-year-old girl named “Jenny.”
Kilpatrick was a professor of physics at LU during the time of the incident but has since been fired, his family said in earlier court proceedings.
Investigator Jake Wade testified to making an undercover post on Craigslist’s “casual encounters” board in mid-November 2017. In it, he depicted a person who’d moved to the Lynchburg area recently who was “bored” and looking for something to do.
A reply to the ad from a man named “Dave” — which Wade said he later learned to be an alias Kilpatrick was using — six days later was “of a sexual nature.” Wade and Kilpatrick then started using Craigslist’s email function to send messages to each other. During the first few weeks of chatting, Kilpatrick asked questions of “Jenny” like her living situation and what high school she went to, Wade said.
By mid-December, “Dave” was asking “Jenny” about her bra size, Wade said. At that time, he said he informed Kilpatrick that “Jenny” was 13 years old.
Wade said Kilpatrick was acknowledging “Jenny’s” age and the fact that she was in eighth grade while they communicated into early January, their conversations starting to take a sexual turn. Kilpatrick was also asking for selfies of “Jenny” and pictures of her clothing and underwear.
He began to start asking to meet with “Jenny” by mid-January, Wade said.
In June, he and other law enforcement officers set up that meeting.
On June 27 of last year, Wade said he watched Kilpatrick get out of his car, which he described to “Jenny” at one point, outside the Neighborhood Walmart in Forest and return with some items. Wade followed the car back to a neighborhood nearby, where he and other officers apprehended Kilpatrick. He had cookies and lubricant in his car, according to search warrants and testimony in the case.
In an interview between Kilpatrick and Wade which was recorded and played back in court Tuesday, Kilpatrick admitted he engaged in “provocative conversation” with “Jenny,” but said he wouldn’t actually engage in physical contact with a minor. He denied ever having any sexual contact with minors and called it “repulsive.”
“I enjoyed the sexuality of our discussions,” he could be heard telling Wade in the recording.
He later said “Jenny” was “communicating like an adult” and he found it “interesting.”
Taking the stand Wednesday, Kilpatrick said he’d browse Craigslist regularly as a “diversion” from his home life and work weeks that’d climb up to 70 hours working for LU. He said he’d send responses to ads in the “casual encounters” section to see if there was a real person behind an ad or just a link to a website, like he said many of the ads are.
When he first saw Wade’s ad, Kilpatrick said he thought it was a woman in her 20s and wanted to figure out “what’s their angle; what’s their persona.”
Once “Jenny” mentioned being 13, he said he understood that to be the person changing their “persona” and “pretending to be underage.” In reality, he said from the stand, he now thought the person was likely a woman in her 30s seeking out “someone fun and entertaining to talk to.”
Matthew Pack, his attorney, questioned Kilpatrick if he ever asked the other person, “Are you real?”
“The moment you question the fantasy, you’re terminating the fantasy,” Kilpatrick responded, adding he played along with this new persona of a 13-year-old girl.
He went on to say that any face-to-face meeting with the person would “terminate the persona.”
“I knew she’d never meet me,” he said.
Kilpatrick said he thought of lubrication as a symbol of the fantasy, and presenting it to the person was “a way to say, ‘It’s over.’”
He said he “never at any point” thought he was actually talking to a 13-year-old girl.
Pack questioned some of Kilpatrick’s coworkers, fellow professors in LU’s Mathematics department, who said he had an “excellent” professional reputation and was well-respected among faculty and students. Pastors and members of his church, Bedrock Community Church, spoke similarly to his quality of character.
Kilpatrick said he moved to the area when he took a position at LU in 2013. Family members said at an October hearing that he was no longer employed there.
At the end of the two-day trial, the jury of seven women and five men returned five guilty verdicts, according to Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Stacey Stickney.
The jury recommended he serve a total of 35 years in prison. He was taken to jail following the trial Wednesday evening, Stickney said.
Rachel Mahoney covers courts for The News & Advance. Reach her at 434-385-5554.