Missouri man accused of kidnapping, molesting 11-year-old girl was catfished, says lawyer
22-year-old Joseph Meili of Russellville avoided jail time after prosecutors dismissed charges of child kidnapping and statutory rape against him because of a plea deal
Note: This story has been updated to reflect that the defendant was not charged with giving his victim an STD.
A Missouri man who pleaded guilty to molesting an 11-year-old girl has been sentenced to five years of supervised probation.
According to the Springfield News-Leader, 22-year-old Joseph Meili, of Russellville, first made contact with the victim on an app called 'Meet Me' early in the morning of July 16, 2017.
The girl, from Republic, is said to have used her mother's phone to exchange messages with Meili. A probable cause statement says the 22-year-old drove to her house that morning after she sent him her address, picked her up in a red car, and then drove her to a Springfield apartment where he sexually assaulted her.
While she was being assaulted, authorities were desperately searching for her, with officers, firefighters, and sheriff's deputies knocking on doors, searching nearby woods, and pinging her cell phone in an attempt to find her. The 11-year-old was finally tracked down to her bedroom later that night, where she was found to be packing a bag and getting ready to leave once again. She reportedly said Meili had dropped her back home.
When questioned further, she said she fell asleep while at the Springfield apartment Meili had taken her to and woke up feeling as though something sexual had taken place. She said Meili had removed her clothing before raping her, a claim that was confirmed when investigators found semen on the 11-year-old's underwear. She also tested positive for Chlamydia.
According to the probable cause statement, police subsequently spoke to Meili over the phone and were told by the 22-year-old that he had no idea what investigators were talking about and that he was "freaking out".
Meili reportedly admitted to meeting up with a girl but insisted that her page on 'Meet Me' showed she was 18 years old.
His attorney, Scott Pierson, told that the girl “catfished” him by claiming to be older than she was. “He felt horrible about the entire incident,” Pierson said. “He’s going to be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life... It’s a tough case. Neither side is really going to get justice here.”
He first agreed to meet with an officer at a local McDonald's to tell his side of the story but later backtracked and said he no longer wanted to talk.
After his roommates provided detectives with information, he was arrested for child kidnapping and other charges at a Fuddruckers.
Meili walked away with no jail time after prosecutors dismissed charges of child kidnapping and statutory rape against him after he pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree child molestation at the Greene County Court on Friday, June 14.