The U.S. Supreme Court today denied a petition for review filed by a former professor convicted of crossing state lines with intent to molest underage girls in Cambodia.

The Court issued a summary denial without stating the reasons for its decision.

In the petition filed in January, Michael J. Pepe, 70, didn’t deny the U.S. government’s allegations that he raped and tortured preadolescent girls at his upscale villa in Phnom Penh.

Instead, Pepe’s attorneys argued that the government’s jurisdictional “hook” for filing federal charges against their client was fatally flawed.

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

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In the Supreme Court petition, Pepe’s lawyers claimed that even if Pepe intended to molest children when he returned to Cambodia, these were “innocent round trips” under a 1944 case, Mortensen v. United States.

The government initially waived its right to respond to the petition, but in February, the Court asked for a response — a move that indicated it was weighing whether to grant the petition.

In March, attorney Donald Falk commented to a reporter: “A grant is a real possibility.”

Falk, an appellate lawyer with Schaerr Jaffe LLP in San Francisco, said at the time that denial remained “the most likely result” but also said the Court might grant the petition as an opportunity to clarify the law.

“The notion that Mortensen and the holdings of other circuits could get future Pepes off the hook is a reason to grant,” he explained.

But the veteran appellate practitioner said today that the Court’s denial of the petition came as no surprise.

“The government apparently persuaded the Court that Mortensen hasn’t been extended to the statutes under which Pepe was convicted,” said Falk.

The denial follows a trial in 2021, where 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 2022, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer sentenced Pepe to 210 years in federal prison, rebuffing the defense’s argument that a long sentence would be unduly harsh.

“Pepe confined numerous preteen girls in his home,” said Judge Fischer. “The horrors he inflicted on those girls was more than unduly harsh, it was torture.”

In 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’s action today brings the Cambodia sex crimes case to an end. But Pepe remains the chief suspect in an unsolved double murder case from 1986.

Pepe was camping by himself at clothing-optional hot springs in a remote corner of the Mojave Desert when a couple at an adjacent campsite mysteriously vanished.

In 2017, Inyo County sheriff’s investigators identified Pepe as the alleged perpetrator, but no charges were ever filed.

Pepe is serving his 210-year sentence in the sex crimes case at a maximum-security federal penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona.

Doug Kari is an investigative journalist and author of The Berman Murders, a true-crime book about the unsolved Saline Valley murders and the Cambodian sex crimes case.