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Teen who's accused of murder may be victim of molestation

A teenager accused of sexually assaulting and strangling an 11-year-old neighbor was himself believed to be the victim of molestation by a man he met in an online chat room, the Asbury Park Press reported Thursday.

The 15-year-old boy is accused of killing Eddie Werner, who was selling candy and wrapping paper door-to-door for a school fund-raiser. The younger boy was carrying $200 in cash he had made from the sales.The Asbury Park Press quoted unidentified sources as saying the suspect was believed to be the victim of a man from New York's Long Island who was charged with sexual assault on Sept. 25.

Police said Stephen Phillip Simmons, 43, met his victim, then 14, in an America Online chat room. Simmons allegedly met him on three occasions between August and December 1996 at a mall and then brought him to other locations to have sex.

The victim's name was not revealed. Police said the encounters came to light after the boy described them to a counselor.

Eddie, who had hoped to win a walkie-talkie for selling the most merchandise in the PTA fund-raiser, disappeared Saturday. According to prosecutors, the suspect lured Eddie into his home and attacked and killed him, then moved his body into woods where it was found Monday night.

Some people in Jackson described the suspect as a loner and a bully, but others said he was an average kid and a good student with an interest in computers. He apparently is the author of a World Wide Web site that is devoted mostly to his favorite rock group, Smashing Pumpkins.

Federal authorities aiding in the investigation found a collection of child pornography on the hard drive of a computer at the youth's home, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported Thursday.

The newspaper quoted a source as saying the teen was interviewed last year as part of a probe into a "porn chat room."