North Charleston man caught in sting did not intend to have sex with child, attorney says

Merle Dean Singletary

A North Charleston man who was arrested last month after being accused of traveling to Georgia to have sex with a child thought he was meeting an adult woman and did not intend to have sex with her 14-year-old daughter, according to his attorney.

Merle Dean Singletary, 42, of North Charleston was arrested in Effinghman County, Ga., July 4 as part of a sting called Broken Candy and charged with sexual exploitation of children, according to the Sheriff's Office. Investigators said they were tracking Singletary because he had downloaded child pornography. They said he traveled to Georgia to meet a woman who would help him have sex with her minor daughter. Singletary was met by a deputy who arrested him.

Charleston attorney George Gatgounis said Saturday that there is no evidence that Singletary exchanged any kind of child or other pornography in the sting.

"No pornography of any kind was ever exchanged by anyone in this sting operation," Gatgounis said.

Singletary started texting and emailing a person he thought was a 39-year-old woman in May. At some point she suggested he have sex with her 14-year-old daughter. Singletary may have joked about it with her, but he told her plainly he did not want to have sex with a child before he was supposed to meet her at a gas station July 4, Gatgounis said.

"Merle Singletary did not engage in an act of 'sexual exploitation of children,' neither was he engaged in 'sexually abusing children,' and neither did he engage in 'stalking them,'" Gatgounis said, referring to the language of the statute under which Singletary was charged. "There was never any actual child in this operation."

Singletary and three Georgia men were arrested and charged under Georgia's Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Prevention Act of 1999 (16-12-100.2).

Singletary's bond request has been denied twice, and he remains in the Effinghman County jail while Gatgounis appeals to a higher court to release him and have the charges dropped.

The sting was part of a four-month investigation in which officers tracked men they said had downloaded and shared child pornography, Sheriff's Office spokesman David Ehsanipoor said.

Ehsanipoor rejected Singletary's defense when asked about it Saturday.

Singletary had talked about getting the child pregnant and raising an incest-type family, and he also talked about the woman helping him find other parents that would allow him to have sex with their children, Ehsanipoor said.

"Just moments before arriving at the agreed meeting place on July 4, Singletary did send a message stating that he was coming to meet the woman only, which is contradictory to the previous messages we had exchanged," Ehsanipoor said. "However this is not uncommon for a 'Child Predator' to get cold feet moments before actually committing a crime and attempt to justify or lessen his culpability for the reprehensible act. ... The children of South Carolina and Georgia are safer now that Singletary is off of the streets."

Gatgounis responded that a person with criminal intent to violate a child would not communicate just prior to the act that he desired to call off a meeting with the child.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.