Firefighter not guilty of felony child porn counts

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

After a full day of testimony Monday about computer forensics and peer-to-peer networking, a judge found Huntingtown resident Daniel Cox, 26, guilty of one count of possession of child pornography but not guilty of two felony counts of possession of child pornography with intent to distribute.

Before his decision in the Calvert County Circuit Court, visiting retired Judge Arthur Ahalt of Prince George's County reviewed the definition of the state's burden of proof — beyond a reasonable doubt.

"It's the highest burden of proof in the judicial system," he said.

Ahalt said he did not believe that Cox intended to distribute the pornography merely because he downloaded a device that allowed access to files in a folder on a peer-to-peer network. Ahalt did, however, say he believe that Cox did unlawfully possess an image of a person under the age of 16 engaged in sexual conduct and found him guilty of one count of possession of child pornography. Ahalt merged the other 36 counts of possession of child pornography in the indictment, which are considered misdemeanor charges.

Prior to Ahalt's decision, Cox's attorney, Robert Harvey of Prince Frederick, called a string of witnesses from the Huntingtown Volunteer Fire Department and lifelong family friends who testified on Cox's truthfulness and integrity.

Before the trial Harvey motioned to have the case dismissed and after testimony in the trial, he motioned for acquittal saying that the state did not prove that Cox "knowingly possess[ed] and intentionally retain[ed]" the pornography, that Cox did not have imminent control of the three computers that were shared by family members and that the age of the girls in the images and videos were not proven by a pediatrician or other expert witness.

The investigation began on July 10, 2007, Maryland State Police (MSP) Sgt. Lee Link of the Computer Crime Section testified for the state in the trial, saying that as he was searching LimeWire, a peer-to-peer network, he came across a pornographic video of a child under a LimeWire folder. After requesting an IP address, Link said he learned the file was downloaded at Cox's residence. Link, who stated he has training in the Tanner scale, which is used by pediatricians to identify age, told the court that the girls in the videos in question were prepubescent and younger than 16 years old.

Calvert County Assistant State's Attorney Kathryn Marsh argued that the images were downloaded by Cox and he knew that he had child pornography. Marsh said he knowingly downloaded the images and videos on a peer-to-peer network where people can distribute to others on that network.

"They were in separate distinct folders, all under Danny [his user name]. He knew he got child porn and knew it could be distributed through LimeWire," she said in closing arguments.

Those present for the trial became uncomfortably silent and most looked away as Marsh played two videos of child pornography and displayed images to the court as evidence.

Marsh called MSP witnesses who hold positions on a task force that investigates "offenses against children" and they testified to the investigation that surrounded searching all files on the three computers found in Cox's home during the execution of a search warrant. Thousands of files were reviewed, some containing adult pornography, and a few of which were child pornography, according to testimony from Trooper Jun Lee, an expert in computer forensics.

Lee said he ran a software program on all three computers which "gives a digital fingerprint" of the hard drive and brings up all files, including deleted items and ones in the recycle bin. Lee testified that all of the pornography found on the computers was downloaded under Cox's user name or under files he created using LimeWire and Yahoo Messenger, which Marsh stated proved that the images were obtained by Cox and not either of his parents, who shared the computers.

Cox testified on his behalf, acknowledging that he would download several adult pornography files at one time, and sometime files of child pornography would be included. However, he said he did not intend to download or view them, calling them "disgusting."

Peer-to-peer networking "carries with it many risks," said Harvey, adding files can be unintentionally downloaded and computers can automatically share files.

"That is the technology we're dealing with," he said.

During cross examination of Lee, Harvey asked if files could be mistakenly downloaded because of their titles, and Lee answered, "There are some files in there that are deceiving."

After the verdict, several members of the Huntingtown Volunteer Fire Department, which Cox continued to be a member of throughout the judicial process, gathered around him and Harvey for a clarification of the verdict.

The guilty verdict of possession of child pornography holds a maximum sentence of two years of incarceration under the statute that Cox was convicted. A presentencing investigation was ordered for Cox, who has no other history in the judicial system.