Montana faces surge in child porn cases
FBI Special Agent Dan Vierthaler says there is a big spike in the child pornography cases across Montana. David Grubbs / for Montana Lee Newspapers

HELENA — The number of child pornography prosecutions is exploding in Montana, in a large part due to the Internet.

In 2003, only two men were convicted in federal court in Montana on child pornography charges. So far this year, 27 people have been convicted of various child pornography charges and 53 prosecutions are pending.

In addition, 17 Montana victims have been identified so far this year, up from 10 in 2006 and five in 2005.

It’s a dirty little secret that’s moved from the magazine rack at the back of the drugstore to the privacy of a person’s home, courtesy of the Internet and personal computers. These days, it’s not the pervert lurking in darkened alleys in a trench coat that parents should be concerned about; more and more often it’s the guy next door who leaves for work each day in a suit and tie.

For the prosecution In Helena, seven people were either arraigned or sentenced on federal child pornography charges since 2006. That number doesn’t include one case each in Wolf Creek and Townsend.

Great Falls also has had seven federal cases in the past two years, including a husband/wife team who collected and framed undergarments in women’s and children’s sizes, and a mother and daughter duo.

Billings also has had seven cases since 2006, including one the judge said involved “the most prolific child pornography collection” he had ever seen.

The increase in trend mirrors a rise in the national effort to go after and prosecute child pornographers. The most recent year data available is 2005, in which 2,400 cases were opened nationwide. That’s up from 113 cases in 1996.

Marcia Hurd was the lone person prosecuting these cases in Montana for the U.S. Attorney’s office for the past 15 years, but adds that another lawyer will be helping with her case load soon.

She notes that they’re seeing many more white collar, mainly male, mostly “regular” guys committing these crimes; still, there’s See SURGE, Back Page Surge …

Continued from Page A1 really no profile of a typical child pornographer.

“They’re as young as 15, as old as 80 and everything in between,” Hurd said recently, seated in a conference room at her office in Billings. “The one common denominator is the ability to use the computer, but we’re prosecuting people viewing this stuff at work, in the library and college.

“The old stereotypical picture people have (of child pornographers) is an absolute myth. These are people employed, with families, in relationships - married or long-term - with family support and not necessarily any criminal history. It’s in rural communities, big cities and tiny towns.” She theorizes that the proliferation has to do with the fact that the people viewing the child pornography think no one knows what they are doing.

“They wouldn’t have gone out some place and purchased this, because that involves direct contact. But because of the Internet, you’re at home, alone, thinking no one will know,” Hurd said. “People have a perceived anonymity of the Internet. You can be anybody and what you say is completely anonymous, and no one will find out.

“But there are all sorts of easy ways to figure out who you are.” Hurd is a parent, and she unconsciously crosses her arms and sits a little straighter in her chair as she reflects on the evidence she’s required to view to prosecute these cases. She’s noticing that the children involved seem to be getting younger, and the images more gruesome.

“Every crime has its bad points - like with murder, there’s the autopsy, and in drug cases you don’t have the best witnesses. But these cases are the most difficult,” Hurd said in a steeled voice. “When I started, most of the pornography involved 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds. Now they’re significantly younger and significantly more hard-core.

“The newest thing is movies, anywhere from 30-second clips to an hour-long movie. Sometimes it’s one child, sometimes numerous children. The worst is the victim that you know, who you sit across the table and talk to.” She adds that people don’t realize how prevalent this is in Montana, nor the graphic nature of the images.

“This isn’t a 15-year-old posing suggestively. Those are not the kinds of cases we’re prosecuting,” Hurd said. “Every one of those are real children, as young as infants. Some photos are sadistic, some masochistic, some with bestiality. It’s a deliberate, knowing activity.” -’Social dwarves’- Anthony “Tony” Gallagher is the head of the Federal Defender’s of Montana office, based in Great Falls. Lawyers from his office often square off against Hurd in federal court, defending the rights of those she is prosecuting.

He agrees with Hurd that 10 years ago, these types of cases were rare. But while the number of images people are viewing online have substantially increased - due again to the ease and privacy of the Internet - he doesn’t believe the images are worse than what they were in the past.

“Having done these cases for a decade now, I don’t necessarily see a great increase in the number of images involving children who are very young - but I haven’t viewed as many as Marcia Hurd,” Gallagher said. “What I have noticed is that most of the folks who do this are ‘social dwarves.’ They don’t have a lot of outside relationships and have failed, or are near failing, in a relationship with a woman.” Like Hurd, defense attorneys have to view the child pornography their client is accused of peddling. Gallagher readily acknowledges it’s painful to look at these images, and he tries to rotate his attorneys so they’re not always dealing with child porn.

“We try to intersperse it with other mundane cases, and try to look at the material much in the same way as you’d view a crime scene,” Gallagher said. “Yes, it’s pretty horrible when a person’s brain is splattered against a wall and it has a significant impact, as does this.

“But you try to look at both as dispassionately as possible. You do take it home in some respects but you try to step back from what you have seen.” Still, Gallagher said he’s had to remove an attorney from a case that involved a young boy because the lawyer had two young boys.

“His viewing of the images became personal, rather than professional,” Gallagher said.

Public defenders are sworn to provide the best possible defense for their clients. To do that in child pornography cases, Gallagher said they look beyond the crime and try to focus on the defendant as a person.

“In most of these cases, they’re your next door neighbor,” Gallagher said. “You would be shocked. But you would realize, having known that person for five, 10 or 20 years, that they have a lot of redeeming qualities beyond the very severe offense they’ve committed.” He adds that many people become addicted to pornography in the same manner they can become addicted to alcohol.

“I think a lot of people think alcoholics are morally reprehensible because they don’t have any self-control,” Gallagher said. “They don’t know it’s a disease that becomes a physical need.” -The personal price of porn- While lawyers try to be dispassionate when prosecuting or defending child pornography cases, that’s not usually possible for the friends, family and spouses of the accused, or even that person himself.

Family members weren’t able to be reached by the Independent Record as part of this analysis, but discussions with attorneys involved in the cases, as well as a review of the court documents, revealed the ripple effect of the shame felt by many near to those convicted of child pornography offenses.

“Shocked” is a common term used when the pornography is discovered. Gallagher said the first people typically astounded are the perpetrators, when they learn that even just sending or receiving child pornography over the Internet - not producing it - involves a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison.

“One client was a 19-year-old airman (at Great Falls’ Malmstrom Air Force Base). He had no criminal record, was intelligent and had a great future. Then, because he downloaded this material, he received a dishonorable discharge, lost his pay and position,” Gallagher said. “It puts the kibosh on anything you want to do in the future with children or computers or even teaching.

“I think they know what they are doing. They just don’t know the penalty.” And the prison time is hard time, he added, noting that the rumors of child pornographers bearing the brunt of angry inmates are true.

“If they’re in the general population prior to sentencing, it can be pretty severe,” Gallagher said. “Once they’re in the system, the bureau of prisons tries to do their best to protect people; whether that’s successful is an issue.” Hurd added that the vast majority of people she’s prosecuted in the past eight years who trafficked in Internet child pornography had no idea that what they were doing was a federal offense with mandatory jail time, which includes stipulations that they have no contact with young people or with computers.

“Some are very apologetic, just didn’t think it was that big of a deal and that they weren’t harming anyone,” Hurd said, adding that there were a few fixated pedophiles, who knew their actions were illegal but just didn’t care.

The families of the accused also often are shocked first at the behavior, then at the thought they’ll lose this family member for at least five years, Gallagher said.

“Then they realize they may have lost that person forever, because this is so different from the person they thought they knew,” he added gently.

Families often aren’t convinced their loved ones actually committed the offenses charged, but Hurd said the federal government does not prosecute unless they are convinced they have the right person behind the keyboard.

In fact, an analysis by the Independent Record of 56 recent child pornography cases in Montana shows that 41 pleaded guilty, while 10 defendants went to trial and were found guilty either by a judge or jury. Once case is awaiting the verdict from a judge, and four others are in the early stages of prosecution. (An excel spreadsheet outlining the analysis is available online.) “People will tell us they ‘accidentally’ stumbled across this site on their computer, and then we find they ‘stumbled’ across this 45 different times,” Hurd said dryly. “There is never the perfect computer crime. There is always some track they’re leaving. Because it’s a serious crime with lifetime supervision, if we can’t definitively put the person behind the keyboard we would have to reluctantly decline to file.” Along with a lifetime of supervision, child pornography also carries a lifetime stigma.

In a letter to Judge Charles Lovell, the father of convicted child pornographer Daniel Lacey wrote of the impact this will have on his son’s life forever. Lacey was sentenced in 2006 to 30 years in prison for sexual exploitation of a 6-year-old and receiving and possessing child pornography.

“He is now a pariah, abandoned by most of his family, despondent and alone,” the father wrote. “What normal person would choose such a life?

“He understands that his freedom is now over for a very long time and that he must commit his life in a completely new direction that has no room for error.” Reporter Eve Byron can be reached at 447-4076 or at eve.byron@helenair.com.

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