'Don't tell anyone': Real estate agent preyed on 13yo girl
A PROMINENT Coast real estate agent abducted a 13-year-old from her home after the pair started a "relationship" following the breakdown of his marriage.
Dressed in a crisp white shirt, Richard Michael Espray, 44, stared unwaveringly forward during his almost four-hour sentencing in Maroochydore District Court, pausing only to turn around and smile to his estranged wife and daughter in the gallery.
The case was set to go to trial and Espray's victim forced to fly from her overseas home to give evidence in May, but he pleaded guilty on June 23 to six charges including abduction, indecent treatment of a child and grooming.
Judge Gary Long will deliver his verdict in the case next week.
Crown prosecutor Greg Cummings told the court that Espray began to take an interest in the girl when she was 12 in March 2016.
By the time she turned 13, their "relationship" had blossomed into being like "boyfriend and girlfriend".
Her father found text messages between them and a note in her room about the relationship and confronted Espray, but he denied anything untoward was happening.
The victim's father took her overseas for a holiday to get her away from Espray, but undeterred he continued to pursue her.
Text messages between them - which were photographed by the teen's father - were read in court and included references to arguments, jealousy and love.
In one message Espray told the girl, "There's no need to tell anyone... for your sake as well as mine" and in another he said, "I don't care you're 13".
During a heated disagreement while the girl was overseas Espray wrote to her, "I've fallen in love with you, I'm f---ing crazy about you".
Espray eventually began asking his victim to send naked images of herself.
She complied and sent him a number of photos of her breasts and genitals over the course of the offending.
In return, Espray sent her three photos of his penis.
In January 2017 after the victim had returned to Australia police found Espray and the teen in a hotel room.
The girl's father had seen her just hours earlier in bed, but soon after received a message from Espray that he had taken her.
Defence barrister Tracy Thorp told the court Espray removed the girl from the home on advice of Child Services because she was having issues with her father.
Judge Long rebuffed that although there was evidence the teen and her father were having issues before Espray's offending, any further arguments may have stemmed from him trying to protect his daughter.
Espray began grooming the girl after his 16-year marriage had begun to break down, in part due to the strain of having a stillborn in 2012.
Ms Thorp said Espray had also been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder which "may have impacted on his ability to realise his actions were wrong".
The court heard Espray was difficult during the investigation and breached his bail by contacting the girl upwards of 400 times and meeting with her at a car rally.
He further tried to convince his victim to not come back to Australia to testify.
Espray has spent almost seven months in prison since his arrest and will remain behind bars until his sentencing next week.