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Berman Murders Suspect Seeks Supreme Court Review of Sex Crimes Conviction

US Supreme Court Building

Berman Murders Suspect Seeks Supreme Court Review of Sex Crimes Conviction

The chief suspect chronicled in my upcoming book The Berman Murders has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his conviction on charges that he crossed state lines with intent to molest underage girls in Cambodia.

In the petition filed in February 2024, Michael Pepe, now 70, doesn’t deny the U.S. government’s allegations that he raped and tortured little girls at his upscale villa in Phnom Penh.

Instead, Pepe’s attorneys argue that the government’s basis for filing federal charges against their client was fatally flawed.

The government alleged that when Pepe traveled to the U.S. to attend his son’s high school graduation in May 2005 and his daughter’s wedding in August 2005, on the return trips to Cambodia he crossed state lines with the intent to molest children.

In the Supreme Court petition, Pepe’s lawyers claim that even if their client intended to molest children when he returned to Cambodia, these were “innocent round trips” under a 1944 case, Mortensen v. United States, and cannot form the basis for prosecuting Pepe.

Supreme Court justices meet in this room to discuss and debate the cases.

Supreme Court justices meet in this conference room to discuss and debate cases.

In what may be a sign that prosecutors believe Pepe’s petition lacks merit, the government waived its right to file a response “unless requested to do so by the Court.”

In 2021, a jury found Pepe guilty on two counts of “traveling in foreign commerce with the purpose of committing illicit sexual acts” and two counts of “crossing a state line to sexually abuse a child under 12.”

In August 2023, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Pepe’s argument that the trips he made from Cambodia to the U.S. and back again had an “innocent purpose.”

“A jury could have rationally found that one of Pepe’s primary motivations for returning to Cambodia was to sexually abuse young girls,” said the court in its opinion.

The U.S. Supreme Court must now decide whether to review, and potentially overturn, Pepe’s conviction.

The Court has discretion to decide whether to accept the case for review, and Pepe faces long odds. But there have been many unexpected twists in this decades-long saga.

In 2017, I attended a Supreme Court argument in a case where I authored an amicus brief.

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