Over the past two days, six of seven individuals caught in an internet child sex sting operation have entered not guilty pleas in Missoula District Court.

The operation, conducted under the auspices of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, took place from December 17 through 19, when area detectives placed online invitations on sites such as Craig’s List and Back Page, leading suspects to believe that they would be communicating with a 12 year-old child.

Marks said the sting itself drew the suspects to a home in Missoula.

"They posted ads on Craig's List purporting to be a woman who was making a 12 year-old girl available for sexual encounters," Marks said. "Detectives then arrested the individuals that responded and came to the house in response to that ad."

Chief Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jason Marks said on Wednesday, January 22, that the final two defendants appeared before District Judge Ed McLean on felony charges of sexual abuse of children.

"Between yesterday and today, all have appeared, because two of the defendants were scheduled to appear before Judge McLean," Marks said. "All six individuals appeared with their attorneys and entered not guilty pleas, and future dates were set for all of those cases."

The two who appeared on Wednesday were Matthew Keith, 22, and Chad Briggs, 36. Appearing on Tuesday before District Judge Karen Townsend were Christopher Cooper, 30, and Justin Walker, 28. A woman, Jenna Davis, 29, appeared on a charge of conspiracy to sexually abuse children for arranging for her boyfriend to have sex with the fictitious 12 year-old girl. Neal Gray, 54, entered a plea of not guilty on January 9.

One other defendant, James Meyers, a former probation officer in Mineral County, was found dead in his home on January 12. Marks said the cause of death has not been released by the Mineral County sheriff.

Marks said the suspects were of all ages and backgrounds.

"Six out of the seven individuals that were arrested were men, and there was one couple who came," Marks said. "They were a wide range of ages, from a young man to a much older gentleman, and I don't believe any of them had any sort of significant criminal history."

Marks said the penalty for sexual abuse of children is up to life in prison.

Deputy Missoula County Attorney Jason Marks