A hung jury forced a federal judge to declare a mistrial today in the case of former Ars Technica reporter Peter Bright, who was indicted in May for allegedly attempting to solicit sex from minors. Bright was arrested last year in an FBI sting in which an undercover agent posed as a mother willing to arrange a sexual encounter between Bright and her children, ages 7 and 9. During the trial, the defense argued that Bright was under the impression that he and the FBI agent were engaged in “ageplay,” and that the children were in fact consenting adults.
“I did not, at first, think she was talking about real kids,” Bright told the court when he was called as a witness last Thursday, detailing for the jury the ins and outs of “ageplay,” a kink in which “mommies” and “daddies” have sex with adults pretending to be “littles,” or “princes” and “princesses.” Bright said that he had engaged in similar role-plays before, always with consenting adults. He’d met the undercover agent, whose username had been “PrincessMom” on KinkD, a fetish and BDSM dating app. According to Bright, when he started to suspect that the mother he was talking to was a real mother offering sex with real children, he decided to collect evidence for law enforcement, which is why he’d been recording his conversation with the undercover agent at the time of his arrest. After his arrest, Bright waived his Miranda rights and tried to explain the mixup to the FBI agents.
Bright, 38, had covered Microsoft and software development for Ars Technica, a Condé Nast publication, since 2010. His lengthy and well-documented social media presence featured several lewd jokes about the age of consent that were entered into evidence. “Admiring jailbait on the train. rowr,” read one tweet. “I think age-based rape-laws (rather than consent-based) are stupid,” read another. Bright attempted to explain away those posts, and others, Thursday, by describing them as jokes and saying that consent laws, particularly in the UK, have “a number of quirks.” Bright, a dual citizen of the U.S. and U.K., is married. In testimony, he used his Twitter bio to describe his sexuality as “poly, pan, and pervy.”
The jury in Bright’s case spent the better part of three days deliberating, emerging from the jury room more than once to review exhibits. Unless he strikes a deal with prosecutors, Bright will likely face a second trial in the coming months.