Computer Crime Research Center


Child porn: It is hard to prove

Date: July 24, 2005

Investigators had no doubt Johnny Oxendine was visiting child-porn sites on the laptop computer he used while working for Lockheed Martin Corp.

Three hard drives used in his computers provided the evidence -- one image after another showing naked children posing in lewd ways or engaging in sex acts.

Oxendine told an Orange County detective he had visited the sites while away on business. And so two years ago he was charged with 64 counts of unlawful possession of materials depicting sexual performance by a child.

But Thursday an Orange County jury acquitted Oxendine on every count, proving to prosecutors and police that winning an Internet child-pornography case such as this one is not a certainty.

"This case illustrates a few problems law enforcement has with prosecuting these cases," said Assistant State Attorney William Jay. "Ultimately, it was the compounding of these problems that made this case so difficult and unique."

Orange Circuit Judge Bob Wattles, who heard the case, said it posed legal hardships, in part because existing statutes don't always reflect the complexities of the Internet or rapid changes in technology.

"It's such a slippery animal to get your hands around," Wattles said of the issues raised in the Oxendine case. "It's not like dealing with a pornographic magazine."

Images weren't deleted

While Oxendine, 56, admitted to visiting the sites and viewing the images, investigators also knew he had tried to delete traces of those sites left behind on his computer. He even ran software designed to remove the temporary files.

Those efforts didn't work completely. And after Oxendine reported having computer problems, it was easy for officials with Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Co. -- for whom he was working on a shoulder-fired missile-system project -- to discover where he had gone on his computer.

That's when the Orange County Sheriff's Office Computer Crimes Squad began investigating. Oxendine didn't live in Orange County, but he worked out of Lockheed's Orlando offices.

Investigators used forensic software that scoured three of Oxendine's hard drives and pulled up the images, banners for Web sites and search words he had used.

About half of the images were located in free space on the computer's hard drive, where items go after they are supposedly deleted. One-third were recovered from the computer's recycle bin.

The jury saw hard copies of all the images. And banners read to the jury included titles such as "Only Virgin Lolitas. Watch Their First Time Sex Experience."

All the while, Oxendine never deliberately downloaded images to his computer. But that shouldn't have mattered.

"It's not required by law that you save them to a permanent file in order to be convicted of it," said Sgt. Kevin Stenger, supervisor of the computer-crimes squad. "Whenever you go to a Web site, you are in fact downloading it. So you are possessing it."

Detective Thomas Harrison, who works with Stenger, told jurors Oxendine said he visited the sites while traveling for work.

"He admitted that he would get bored, staying in hotel rooms," Harrison said. "He said he didn't see anything really wrong with it [viewing the images] since it was on the Internet."

But learning where he accessed the Web sites and when he deleted the temporary files were difficult facts to prove.

Oxendine was charged with "knowingly" possessing images in Orange County.
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