Video: Students unmask sex offender

updated 1/16/2006 11:32:47 PM ET 2006-01-17T04:32:47

When Caspian James Chrichton Stuart IV arrived at a Minnesota high school he looked like a typical senior, his story far from typical.  He had a British accent, handed out business cards that said he was a member of Britain‘s royal family and told the other students he hung out with a number of American celebrities.

But Joshua Adam Gardner, 22, a.k.a. the Fifth Duke of Cleveland, as he called himself, wasn‘t well connected enough to close off the Internet.  Some suspicious student reporters found he was not duke.  He wasn‘t even British, but he was a convicted sex offender. 

Four of these intrepid young journalists joined Dan Abrams.

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST 'ABRAMS REPORT': The school paper is the “Pony Express” and the student journalists are here with us.  Editors in chief Matt Murphy and Karlee Weinmann and managing editors Marisa Riley and Chantel Leonhart.  Thanks a lot to all of you, appreciate it. 

All right.  Karlee, let me start with you, what is the first that you heard of this guy on campus? 

KARLEE WEINMANN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF 'PONY EXPRESS':  Well, actually one of our staff reporters had heard from her German teacher that this purported royal duke was going to be at our school for the day, so we just thought that it might make a fun feature story to write because people generally are enamored with the whole idea of royalty.

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, Matt, you hear about this supposed royalty is going to be on campus and then what happens? 

MATT MURPHY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF 'PONY EXPRESS':  Well, his initial claims of interactions with celebrities and his suggestions pertaining to the British royal family and British pedigree, they didn‘t add up with us.  So subsequently we researched the subject, which led us to the discovery that he was not a duke, but rather a sex offender. 

ABRAMS:  But—and Marisa, let me take—go to you on this one—was there a sense amongst all of you, or did one of you say wait a second, this guy‘s claiming that he‘s hanging out with Hilary Duff and he‘s hanging out with Josh Hartnett.  He‘s claiming the Fifth Duke of Cleveland or did all of you hear about this together and say this just doesn‘t make any sense? 

MARISA RILEY, MANAGING EDITOR 'PONY EXPRESS':  I think we were all a little skeptical at first, just because the stories were so farfetched.  But Matt initially had the skepticism with the British pedigree about how the kings and queens lined up in his family history and it just didn‘t line up. 

ABRAMS:  So Matt, what was it about the kings and queens that didn‘t line up? 

MURPHY:  Well, I was reading a book concurrently with the investigation, which was a really—it was a ridiculous coincidence, but what I was reading in the book by Winston Churchill didn‘t exactly line up with what this kid was saying.

ABRAMS:  So you just read this book and he‘s talking about the history of the British monarchy and you‘re saying, wait a sec, that‘s not what I just read? 

MURPHY:  Yes.  And which you know subsequently, it put some doubt into Karlee and Chantel and Marisa as well and they pursued it, as well as I did, which led to the discovery. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So Chantel now—there‘s the suspicion now.  Everyone is saying wait a second.  This doesn‘t add up.  That doesn‘t add up.  You guys start an Internet search.  Who decides, you know what, let‘s check the sex offender registry?

CHANTEL LEONHART, MANAGING EDITOR 'PONY EXPRESS':  Well, we started with a lot of Web sites, but we—when we found his actual name, the Joshua Adam Gardner name, we just started putting his name into you know national databases of any sort, just legal capacities really and eventually we came upon the sex offender Web site and that‘s when his mug shot popped up that we saw. 

ABRAMS:  And what did you think at that point?  Were you thinking oh my, hello? 

LEONHART:  Yes, we really were.  Karlee and Marisa and I were the ones that saw it and we printed it off and ran to get Matt out of class to show him and it was really just kind of a breakthrough on what we had been working so hard for.

ABRAMS:  Karlee, how long did you have to look on the Internet to find who he really was? 

WEINMANN:  It was over the period of a weekend that we kind of had all these breakthroughs and found all this information.  But we spent hours and hours and you know the efforts of one person compounded with the efforts of many led to this breakthrough that we discovered.

ABRAMS:  How did you fine his real name? 

WEINMANN:  It was actually on a Wikepedia site.  Wikepedia is sort of an online encyclopedia where users submit information.  So it‘s basically a pool of knowledge that users submit.  And we found an entry submitted for deletion actually for Caspian James Chrichton Stuart IV and the user who submitted it for deletion coincidentally submitted it because he suspected it was—quote—“largely nonsense” and next to the name Caspian James Chrichton Stuart IV was the name Joshua Adam Gardner in parentheses.  So that‘s how we found his real name and that‘s what ultimately led us down the final stretch of our investigation. 

ABRAMS:  And Marisa, he kind of minimizes his sex offender status, right? 

RILEY:  Yes, he did. 

ABRAMS:  What was he convicted of? 

RILEY:  He was convicted of level our sex offender, which is forced or coerced.  And that was in Florida, because the levels are different in each state.  But due to Florida‘s standards, which they post any level sex offender, we found him.  Because Minnesota only posted level three, which is the highest.

ABRAMS:  He says he was 18 and having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend at the time.  Matt, is that consistent with what your investigation has turned up? 

MURPHY:  Yes.  I mean initially that wasn‘t a part of what we were looking at, but after subsequent research that is what we had found out.  And you know of course you‘re going to get bogus claims out of people that they‘re going to minimize their sex offender status, but luckily for us the justice system goes with the facts rather than the bogus claims of sex offenders.

ABRAMS:  You‘ve already become a widely jaded journalist, I see, but you‘re smart to look at it that way.   Here is part of the interview with Josh Gardner in prison, talking about why he did it. 

JOSHUA ADAM GARDNER, CONVICTED SEX OFFENDER:  I just kind of didn‘t have any worries, you know and there‘s people that actually—not that I‘m saying that you know there‘s people out there that don‘t care about me now you know as Joshua, you know but I was really close to my mom, you know and when she died, you know I kind of took that hard.  You know and so there‘s nobody there.  And so as Caspian, you know more people you know enjoy to be around me, you know I guess that they didn‘t look at me as a sex offender.  They looked at me as a normal person. 

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you.  Do any of you feel sorry for him now, looking back on it? You don‘t buy his story?  You think he‘s just trying to snooker people again?

WEINMANN:  Well, we don‘t feel that your own personal escape is excuse enough for you to impact so many other people in a potentially dangerous manner.  We don‘t find any excuse for that at all in his claims. 

ABRAMS:  I agree with you.  What was he doing, Chantel, on campus? 

LEONHART:  He was visiting the school.  I know the last time he visited, he spoke of wanting to become a prospective student to come back as what he said was a senior, he would have been at our high school, which of course you know when we found that his birth year was 1983, which made him 22, it wouldn‘t have been possible at all for him to come as a senior at our high school. 

ABRAMS:  You guys did old-fashioned good journalism.  You should all be real proud of yourselves and by me laughing about this, I‘m in no way mocking the situation because this is a fascinating story, and you guys broke it.  And you all deserve a lot of credit.  I think you all have big futures.  Matt Murphy, Karlee Weinmann—these are all names they‘re going to remember and write these down for when the applications are coming in—Matt Murphy, Karlee Weinmann, and Marisa Riley and Chantel Leonhart, thanks a lot for coming on the program

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.


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