A convicted sex offender who tried to pass himself off as a teenage member of English nobility says he just wanted some respect, until some high school journalists uncovered his past.
Joshua Adam Gardner, 22, visited Stillwater Area High School three times in December and January, posing as “Caspian James Crichton-Stuart IV, the Fifth Duke of Cleveland” and telling students he was 17 and was interested in attending the school.
He also claimed to be 27th in line for the British throne.
“Becoming ‘Caspian,’ I was given respect,” Gardner said in a jailhouse interview broadcast Monday on NBC’s “Today.” “And people ... don’t look at you in that way that they would look at a sex offender.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt anybody,” he said.
Reporters at the Stillwater school newspaper, the Pony Express, thought “Caspian’s” story would be an interesting feature.
Insisted on being called 'Your Grace'
“He was demanding that we call him ‘Your Grace,”’ said Chantel Leonhart, one of the paper’s managing editors. “He even demanded that the principal call him ‘Your Grace.”’
The reporters’ research turned up an entry for “Earl of Scooby” at the youth Web site http://www.myspace.com, where “Caspian” said he was British and that his goal for the year was “To not make the front page of any paper.”
However, his description of his British lineage didn’t ring true to co-editor in chief Matt Murphy.
Plus, he couldn’t spell the name of the castle he claimed was his home, and the British consulate in Chicago told them there was no such title as the Duke of Cleveland.
More research led the students to Web sites linking the pseudonym to Gardner’s real name and to a Florida state registry of sex offenders.
The student reporters learned that Gardner was convicted in 2003 of criminal sexual conduct in Winona County, in southeastern Minnesota, for having sex with his underage girlfriend two years earlier. The girl was 14 and Gardner was 18. He was put on probation and had apparently been living lately in Stillwater and Austin.
Minnesota had informed Florida of his sex offense record because he had moved to that state at one point, Minnesota Department of Corrections spokeswoman Liz McClung said.
Gardner said he didn’t know that their age difference made having sex with the girl illegal.
After school officials told police what the students had uncovered, Gardner’s probation officer contacted him and he agreed to turn himself in. He was booked into jail Jan. 9 for allegedly violating terms of his parole by not always registering his changes of address, not observing restrictions on his Internet access, not getting counseling and for having unsupervised contact with minors.
He was denied bail Friday and a hearing on the alleged probation violations is set for Feb. 8, said Winona County Attorney Chuck MacLean. He could be sent to prison for 21 months.
Principal Chris Lennox there were “absolutely not” any problems or incidents with Gardner during his school visits and that he was always accompanied by a staff member.
Gardner told the St. Paul Pioneer Press last week that his alter ego was a mixture of fictional characters and real people. “Caspian” was a nickname he’d taken from the “Chronicles of Narnia” book series, he said, and Crichton is from author Michael Crichton.