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Jury shown child porn during first day of trial

Thursday, December 18, 2008 | 11:13 p.m. CST
Defendant Clarence Arthur Tremaine waits for his jury trial to begin Thursday. Tremaine is charged with possession and promotion of child pornography.

COLUMBIA — Twelve jurors stared at a flat-screen monitor Thursday in Boone County Circuit Court as graphic videos were shown of children having sex.

Some jurors winced or shifted nervously, but all kept their eyes fixed on the screen as they’d been instructed.

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The man accused of downloading and sharing the child pornography, Clarence Arthur Tremaine, didn’t watch, but stared at the floor. The video stopped, and a few long seconds passed before Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Merilee Crockett broke the silence.

“The state rests,” she said.

The two minutes of video were played for the jury during the first day of Tremaine’s trial on charges of possession and promotion of child pornography. They were a small portion of the child pornography that Crockett said Tremaine had on his computer and shared with others over a file-sharing network.

Investigators found about 17 videos of child pornography on Tremaine’s computer, she said, depicting children between ages 8 and 12 “of both genders and in various sexual acts.”

The case pushed the Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force into the spotlight on the eve of its second anniversary in January.

Boone County Sheriff’s Detective Andy Anderson, the coordinator of the task force, spent much of the afternoon laying out the case against Tremaine and defending his actions during the investigation.

Anderson’s time on the stand was exceeded only by that of Greg Chatten, a computer forensics expert brought in by the defense to try to poke holes in the state’s case.

But the proceedings almost didn’t make it that far.

During jury selection, Tremaine’s lawyer, public defender Tony Manansala, described Tremaine as “mentally retarded,” even though he had not undergone a mental evaluation.

Crockett asked Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane to declare a mistrial, but Crane overruled the motion because Manansala said he was not planning to claim that Tremaine was unfit to stand trial or to argue for diminished responsibility because of his mental state. 

Manansala said he mentioned Tremaine’s mental capacity only to allow the jury to consider it when evaluating statements Tremaine made to investigators.

Anderson testified that Tremaine admitted to having child pornography and using search terms such as “7 YO,” meaning “7-year-old.” But Anderson acknowledged that he did not first read Tremaine his rights before serving a search warrant and asking him questions that elicited those statements.

In his opening statement, Manansala spoke from Tremaine’s perspective.

“Clarence Tremaine will tell you this,” Manansala said, “‘I’m not very smart. I lost my wife before I got arrested. She left because I was drinking too much. …  I went and bought a computer at Walmart, thinking it would keep me out of the bars. But it didn’t.'”

Tremaine began to throw parties for friends he’d met at bars, Manansala said.  He’d invite them over to drink beer and hang out, Manansala said, because he “was lonely and needed friends.”

Manansala conceded that child pornography was on Tremaine’s computer, but he argued that Tremaine didn’t download it. A friend downloaded the file-sharing program LimeWire on Tremaine’s computer, Manansala said.

No evidence indicated that Tremaine knew about the child pornography, Manansala argued, making Tremaine’s statements to investigators all the more important in establishing a link between Tremaine and the material on his computer. Before the trial, Manansala filed a motion to suppress these statements, but Crane decided to allow them.

When Anderson and two other investigators served a search warrant on April 23, 2007, Manansala said, adopting Tremaine’s perspective again: “'I told Mr. Anderson what he wanted to hear to get him off my back. I now know that I could have gotten a lawyer, but he didn’t tell me that. He just asked me questions.'”

Anderson testified that Tremaine was cooperative during the search and invited the investigators into his home.

“He was very cordial,” Anderson said.

A key point of contention Thursday was whether Tremaine had set up his computer to share files with other people using LimeWire. File-sharing would be the primary element in supporting the charge of promotion of child pornography, a much more serious charge than possession. Promotion carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, compared with a maximum of four for possession.

Crockett displayed screenshots of Tremaine’s computer showing that a settings box was checked that allowed sharing of files, but Manansala pointed out that this was the default setting on LimeWire. “It would take someone with a little computer savvy to go in and change those settings,” he said.

Chatten, who is president of Forensic Computer Service Inc. in St. Louis, testified that Tremaine was not sharing child pornography because the videos were not in his LimeWire library.

“The bottom line is that, at the time Mr. Tremaine’s computer was seized, there was no evidence that he was sharing child pornography?” Manansala asked.

“That’s what the evidence shows,” Chatten said.

But, during a lengthy and heated cross-examination, Crockett said that the child pornography was found in file folders used by LimeWire that were set up to be shared.

Manansala’s statement about Tremaine’s mental capacity — which he later referred to as “low-level intelligence” — was not the only difficulty during jury selection.

Almost a dozen of the 58 potential jurors said they wouldn’t be able to watch the videos of child pornography. Crockett said it was necessary to watch so they could judge whether the people involved were younger than 14, as stipulated in the statute.

“I’ve got two young children,” one male potential juror said. “I don’t think I could be impartial.”

A female potential juror said, “I don’t even watch scary movies.”

A number of potential jurors said they didn’t think they could convict a mentally disabled person, and some said they thought the five-year minimum sentence for the promotion charge was too harsh.

Others showed clear disgust with the charge. “I’d give him the maximum,” one male potential juror said.

The trial is scheduled to resume Friday at 8:30 a.m.


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