Sign in to comment!

Menu
Home

Defense In Child Porn Case Distorts the Truth

Recent media reports, including a Jan. 23 column by FOXNews.com columnist Wendy McElroy, and a Jan. 19 broadcast of the ABC news program 20/20, have portrayed the prosecution of an Phoenix, Ariz., teenager in an Internet child pornography case as an overzealous prosecution by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

The Maricopa County Attorney's office would like to make clear our contention that these reports grossly misrepresented the facts involved, and that the characterization of this case in the media is the result of the juvenile defendant's parents denial of the evidence of their son's guilt and unfortunate initiation of a media disinformation campaign.

The Bandy’s even hired Bernstein Crisis Management to design a web site attacking County Attorney Andrew Thomas and further spread disinformation. The “experts” quoted on the website were not given the specific facts of Bandy’s situation; they were simply asked broad questions about viruses hijacking a computer.

This case was not about adult pornography, nor was it about a computer virus surreptitiously downloading child pornography to your computer-- as the media, family and defense counsel have portrayed it. The prosecution of then 16-year old Matt Bandy was about an investigation that yielded overwhelming evidence of the defendant viewing, downloading, uploading and sharing pornographic images of children being sexually abused, and burning them to a CD.

Matt Bandy admitted to detectives that he visited pornographic websites as well as an online group known for sharing pornographic images of children. A burned CD was found in his home, which contained the same pornographic images of children found on his computer. The images were saved in a file named "Lolita," which is a term used by child pornographer traffickers to refer to underage images.

Bandy’s defense attorney asserted that a “virus” or “trojan” must have downloaded the child pornography to Bandy’s computer without his knowledge. Even if this were true, it is the County Attorney's contention that a virus could not have burned those images to a CD, titled them “Lolita,” then physically removed the CD from the computer and place it elsewhere within the family home. The fact that child pornography was found on the CD at his home cannot be ignored.

The investigation was initiated by the Phoenix Police Department after Yahoo! reported the transfer of child pornography to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as required by law. Evidence subpoenaed from Yahoo! revealed that pornographic images of children had been uploaded from a username “mrbob1980hoopdu” to a Yahoo! online group called “beth_lard9.”

Beth_lard9 was an online group created for exchanging child pornography. Bandy admitted to the Phoenix police detectives assigned to the case that he participated in this online group, and said his username was “joebean1988hoopdu.” Yahoo! provided information showing that the username that uploaded the child pornography, “mrbob1980hoopdu,” was registered as “Ms. Joe Bean”-- a clear link to Bandy.

In addition, both the IP address assigned to the Bandy computer by the Bandy’s Internet service provider Cox and the MAC address of the Bandy computer were matched to the newsgroup postings by “mrbob1980hoopdu.”

Ms. McElroy's column reported the defense assertion that the prosecution refused to perform a forensic analysis of the juvenile’s computer, and that a forensic analysis found that “nine images were probably downloaded without his knowledge onto his hard drive by a virus.”

This is not accurate. The prosecution’s forensic examiner, a detective with over 400 hours of training in computer forensics who is certified by the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists, the leading organization in this area, performed a lengthy analysis of Bandy’s computer. The results of this examination were detailed in a report over 100 pages long. This detective found 72 images of child pornography on the computer, stored in folders created on his computer entitled “…kidlolitagood ones.

The Bandy family hired their own forensic examiner, whose resume does not indicate she is certified with IACIS and whose expertise and training is seriously questioned by the prosecutors. This examiner is responsible for the claim that a virus probably downloaded the images without the juvenile’s knowledge.

(Editor's note: each side in this case disputes the expertise and qualifications of the forensic examiner used by the other side. )

If this were the case, what would stop anyone accused of downloading child porn from using that excuse? That excuse has been used with little success in the past by defendants. Last summer, in U.S. v. O’Keefe, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the child pornography conviction of a defendant who blamed a virus for placing child pornography on his computer. In that case, the prosecution’s forensic analysis of his computer indicated there were viruses on his computer, but they were not capable of downloading child pornography.

If the analysis by the forensic analyst hired by Bandy provided exculpatory evidence, it should have been presented during the prosecution of the case. The only report that has been provided to our office was a seven-page document consisting of some conclusions; there was no report on scanning for viruses, no mention of the CD that was found or the work the examiner performed – no mention of any viruses supposedly responsible for the activities described or the CD.

In fact, our office’s forensic examiner who examined the computer acknowledged after the case blew up in the media that there were child porn images present on the computer nine months before the viruses infected the computer, so the viruses could not have been solely responsible.

It is a prosecutor’s responsibility to try cases where there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction. Bandy’s defense attorney has publicly acknowledged that there was an “80 percent” chance of conviction if the case went to trial.

The plea agreement reached in this case has been misrepresented as an indication that we did not have a strong case. This too is not accurate.

Arizona has one of the toughest child pornography laws in the nation, requiring a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison for each image of child pornography, and multiple counts must be served consecutively. By these laws, Bandy could have faced 90 years in prison.

Our office never intended to ask for a sentence of 90 years in prison, as has been so greatly exaggerated, and the plea reflects our office efforts to avoid giving the juvenile 90 years in prison. Our office has a duty to examine each case on its own merits and reach a result which is just. In light of the circumstances surrounding this case -- such as the age of the juvenile and his lack of prior criminal conduct -- we felt 90 years was disproportionately harsh and offered a plea bargain allowing Bandy to plead guilty to the lesser charge of distributing pornography to minors. Bandy accepted this agreement.

The victim in this case is not Matt Bandy. The victims are the children who are exploited and made virtual sex slaves. Some of the children in the images found on his computer and CD were recognized as past victims of exploitation, and some were under 10 years old.

This case is not about pornography, it is about child pornography. Child pornography sexualizes children for profit. If you can justify a crime as horrible as child pornography, you can justify any heinous crime.

Our office did what it thought was right in this situation, and a media disinformation campaign cannot change the overwhelming evidence of Bandy’s guilt.

Unfortunately, the court removed the sex offender registration terms from Bandy’s guilty plea, so he will not receive the treatment he needs to avoid this happening again. Individuals who become involved in child pornography have a hard time breaking free from it. We can only hope that Bandy does.

Rachel Alexander is the deputy county attorney with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Maricopa County, Arizona.