BOSTON (AP) – Online stings in which police pose as children to catch sexual predators can be used to win convictions even if the suspect never goes to meet the fictitious child, the state’s highest court ruled Friday.

The Supreme Judicial Court addressed the state’s child enticement statute for the first time in its unanimous ruling in the case of Richard Disler.

Disler’s attorney, James Krasnoo, said he was “bitterly disappointed” by the ruling because “my client never left his computer and never took a step to meet a human being.” But he said it was too early to know if he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Disler was arrested in 2003 after exchanging several online messages with a 14-year-old girl named Sara, including making plans to meet for sex at his car and North Andover house. Sara was actually several police officers who took turns writing to Disler.

Disler was sentenced to three years probation after his conviction on one count of child enticement. He appealed, arguing he was entrapped because police initiated the online conversation.

Disler also argued the law was unconstitutional and that he shouldn’t have been convicted because he “never engaged in conduct beyond merely sending words.” He said the law required a more overt act, such as going to a prearranged meeting spot.

The court disagreed, ruling the law can be broken with words alone because words, spoken or written, are what are used to entice a minor for sex.

But the SJC said prosecutors also must prove a defendant had an intent to commit a crime when he used the words. It said the state did so in Disler’s case, citing his explicit statements about the sex acts he hoped to perform and insistence he meet the girl in secret.

“The statute does not prohibit specific words. It also does not ban anyone from communicating with adults or minors about sexual topics, even through indecent language,” Justice Roderick Ireland wrote for the court.

“What the child enticement statute forbids is anyone who possesses the requisite intent to violate one of the enumerated criminal statutes from enticing a child, or someone the individual believes to be a child, toward that end,” he wrote.

The court also ruled Disler was not entrapped because prosecutors could show he was “ready and willing” to commit the crime.

It noted that Disler was reported to police by a Haverhill woman who said Disler contacted her through an online chat room, told her he wanted to have sex with young children and invited her to participate.

Ireland wrote that the exchanges were “enough to show that the defendant had a predilection for the crime.”

In a statement, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said he was pleased with the ruling, and called the enticement law “a very useful and important tool to fight online predators.”

AP-ES-04-18-08 1732EDT

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