Computers play key role in prosecuting child pornography cases
When William Calladine's truck broke down in Arizona last year, the Ann Arbor truck driver boarded a Greyhound bus to head home.
He packed his belongings into a cardboard box - including a laptop computer, video camera, digital camera and clothes - and put it on the bus.
But that box didn’t arrive at the Ann Arbor Greyhound station for nearly two weeks - and when it got there, a police officer was waiting, court files show.
What happened next, prosecutors say, illustrates the difficulty they often face in bringing charges in suspected child pornography cases.Investigators say Calladine’s computer contained child pornography, but a judge tossed the case recently, saying police had no right to seize the computer. And prosecutors often face an uphill battle proving who had access to a computer and downloaded the images.
At issue in Calladine’s case was the fact that his daughter went to the Greyhound station and allowed police to seize the computer without a search warrant. Officers said they received a tip that the computer may contain child pornography.
“It was the most traumatic day of my life,” Kimberly Calladine said. “My dad was being accused of something absurd. (The police officer) told me what was going on and I immediately freaked.”
Calladine, 55, of Ypsilanti, was charged with two counts of possessing child pornography and two counts of using a computer to commit a crime. Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Archie Brown ruled the computer was inadmissible as evidence, and the case was dismissed.
As more and more child porn purveyors use computers to view images, a survey of local cases by AnnArbor.com shows much of the testimony and court motions center on who had access to the computer and whether the accused meant to download the images.
“The hardest part is not finding the child porn on your computer,” said Washtenaw County Sheriff Detective Kevin Parviz. “It’s proving that person put it there.”
Investigators rely on such clues as a suspect leaving his e-mail running while surfing child porn sites or communicating on his Facebook site while downloading images.
“Once we’ve got them with computer access, they’re hard cases to defend,” Washtenaw County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Burke said, adding that’s why many of the accused end up striking plea bargains.In Calladine’s case, Ann Arbor Officer Brett Hansen testified the Greyhound bus manager called him after receiving an anonymous tip that Calladine’s box contained child pornography.
Hansen said Calladine’s daughter signed a consent form authorizing him to take the laptop for testing, and Calladine later provided the passwords to the computer.
Calladine’s attorney, Lynn D’Orio, successfully argued police didn’t have permission to take the computer.
And without the computer, no case could be made. Outside the courtroom, William Calladine gave his daughter a long hug, and they left.
â€¢ "Not enough" investigators in Washtenaw County working on child pornography cases
â€¢ Most convicted of possessing child pornography in Washtenaw County receive probation sentences
â€¢ Eastern Michigan University professor: Child porn voyeurs looking for someone to dominate
David Jesse covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 734-623-2534. Photos: At top, William Calladine listens to his attorney in court recently. At bottom, Ann Arbor Police Officer Brett Hansen testifies in court about Calladine's case. Photos by Mark Bialek for AnnArbor.com.