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Second child porn trial for Internet crimes task force ends in conviction

Saturday, December 20, 2008 | 4:27 p.m. CST; updated 9:06 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 20, 2008
Andy Anderson, coordinator of the Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force, describes his findings during the jury trial on Friday at the Boone County Courthouse for Clarence Arthur Tremaine, who has been charged with possession of child pornography.

COLUMBIA — On the eve of the Mid-Missouri Internet Crimes Task Force’s second anniversary, a Boone County jury returned a guilty verdict in just the second case initiated by the task force that has gone to trial.

The two-day trial offered a glimpse of some of the task force’s methods and how those methods might come under fire in court. The trial – during which jurors had to watch graphic videos of child pornography – also highlighted some of the difficulties of presenting a child pornography case, as well as the emotional toll the proceedings can take on participants.

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The jury convicted Clarence Arthur Tremaine, 33, of possession and promotion of child pornography on Friday, recommending that he be sentenced to four years in prison for possession and seven years for promotion.

In an interview after the verdict was read, task force coordinator Andy Anderson, who was an important witness for the state, said he was surprised the case went to trial.

“I thought the evidence was overwhelming in this case,” he said, noting that most cases end in a plea agreement.

He estimated that the task force has made about 25 arrests during its two years in operation, with some cases still pending and only one other – a child pornography case that resulted in a conviction – going to trial.

“These investigations are a lot more labor-intensive than one might think,” sometimes taking months before an arrest can be made, Anderson said.

The task force was set up on Jan. 1, 2007, and it focuses particularly on the exploitation of children. It is now one of about eight such task forces across Missouri, Anderson said.  

Linking a person to child porn

In some investigations, task force members use file-sharing programs, such as LimeWire or BearShare, to search for child pornography. These programs point them to other people’s computers that have child pornography set up to be shared over a “peer-to-peer network.”

When investigators locate child pornography on someone else’s computer, they trace their Internet Protocol, or IP, address to a physical location and serve a warrant there.

But investigators then face a challenge: They must link the child pornography on the computer to the person who downloaded it.

“You cannot take any one piece of evidence in these cases and prove that the person shared child pornography,” Anderson testified on Thursday. “You have to look at the multitude of evidence.”

Tremaine’s defense attacked that point.

Throughout the trial, Public Defender Tony Manansala argued that Tremaine didn’t even know how to use LimeWire, the program he was accused of using to download and share child pornography. Testifying on Friday, Tremaine said, “I just push buttons.”

Tremaine had parties at his home for friends he’d met at bars, Manansala said, and they had access to his computer, which was not password-protected. Tremaine referred to himself as an alcoholic, and Manansala described him as “mentally retarded.”

He later amended the description to “low-level intelligence,” after Boone County assistant prosecuting attorney Merilee Crockett motioned for a mistrial because Tremaine had not been professionally diagnosed as "mentally retarded." Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane denied Crockett's request.

In drawing the connection between Tremaine and the child pornography on his computer, Crockett relied heavily on statements Tremaine made to investigators. Anderson testified that Tremaine admitted to downloading child pornography.

But Manansala argued that the jury shouldn’t consider these statements because Anderson didn’t read Tremaine his rights before speaking with him, and Tremaine didn’t know he could get a lawyer.

“He just kept asking me questions, and every time I tried to answer he didn’t want to hear what I was saying,” Tremaine testified.

Anderson said he was not obligated to read Tremaine his rights because Tremaine was not a suspect and was free to leave when they were talking.

What is promotion?

Promotion of child pornography is a much more serious offense than possession.  The jury could have recommended a sentence of up to 15 years for Tremaine on the promotion charge, compared with a maximum of four years on the possession charge.

But during jury selection, some potential jurors wondered, just what does it mean to “promote” child pornography?

Does it mean selling child pornography? Would haplessly forwarding a smutty e-mail count? “Sometimes I click on my computer and all hell breaks loose,” one potential juror said.

Under the law, Crockett said, making files of child pornography available to others over a file-sharing network counts as promotion.

But the problem, Manansala said, is that sharing files is the default setting on LimeWire. To prevent sharing, Tremaine would have had to locate a settings box and uncheck it. “Don’t be fooled by the prosecution that a person with a special education background could find (the settings box),” he told the jury.

In an interview, Anderson rejected the argument that Tremaine could avoid the promotion charge if he was unaware that his computer was set up to share files.

“I feel pretty strongly that, if someone is using a file-sharing program, that’s the nature of the program,” he said.  “Any of us who use a program have a kind of responsibility for it.”

‘Big questions about the whole investigation’

The bulk of the testimony presented at the trial came from dueling computer forensics experts: Anderson and Greg Chatten, the president of Forensic Computer Science in St. Louis.

Chatten took swipes at both Crockett and Anderson during his testimony.

A CD containing pictures taken by investigators at Tremaine’s home bore a time stamp several hours earlier than the time when the search warrant was served.

Chatten said the time stamp on the pictures was suspicious, and Manansala said, during his closing argument: “That’s reasonable doubt. It raises big questions about the whole investigation.”

Crockett said that the time stamp resulted from a simple error.  The time stamp came from the computer used to transfer the pictures from the camera to the CD, she said, but the internal clock on the camera showed that the pictures were actually taken when the search warrant was served.

Anderson brushed off the defense’s criticism of his investigation. “Part of the usual defense tactic is to make it seem like the investigators did something wrong,” he said.

‘A tough case’

During jury selection, almost a dozen potential jurors said they couldn’t bring themselves to watch child pornography, something Crockett advised them they would have to do if selected.

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

Over the course of two long days, jurors saw two minutes of graphic videos showing children younger than 14 having sex. They watched Tremaine testify that he couldn’t read or write. They watched relatives testify to the hard life Tremaine had been through.

When the verdict was read, Tremaine’s head dropped, and the mother of his two children began to cry.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Crane told the jury, “this has been a tough case right before Christmas. The content of this case was tough. I know it’s something you’re probably never going to forget completely. … Go home and relax. Hug your loved ones.”

Tremaine requested a furlough so he could spend Christmas with his loved ones, but Crane denied his request.

Outside the courtroom, Anderson said he agreed with the verdict, but took no satisfaction from it.

A criminal conviction “is not a good thing,” he said. “There are always people that suffer.”


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