Frisco child pornography trial hinges on disturbing images, chain of custody for digital evidence
September 18, 2018
Jurors heard opening statements and the start of witness testimony in the trial of Kenneth Scott Casey on Tuesday at the Summit County Justice Center in Breckenridge. Casey's ex girlfriend, who allegedly found a cache of child pornography on his computer, was the first to take the stand, followed by a number of former and current Frisco Police Officers who worked on the case.
Casey, 61, stands accused of knowingly possessing more than 2,000 photos and videos of child pornography, which were discovered on his personal computer in June 2015. He is charged with one count of sexual exploitation of a child, a Class-4 felony that holds a presumptive penalty of two to six years in prison.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Johnny Lombardi painted Casey as a man living a double life as both a respectable member of the community and hospitality industry while in public, and a deviant patron of child pornography behind closed doors. Lombardi continued to warn the jury that the exhibits entered into evidence in the trial would be "graphic, vile and disgusting," and forcefully asserted that Casey himself knowingly downloaded and kept the pornographic material over a number of years.
"This is tell-all evidence," said Lombardi. "No hacker placed these photographs. There was no Trojan horse … evidence will show that he is knowingly responsible for this."
Casey's attorney, Richard Banta, plead with the jury not to get swept away by the disturbing nature of the material likely to be entered into evidence, and to keep in mind the circumstances of material's discovery. He pointed to the fact that the computer was homemade, and that nobody could tell where the individual parts — namely the hard drive containing illicit material — came from.
Casey's ex-girlfriend, who allegedly discovered the child pornography on Casey's computer, was the first to testify. The Summit Daily News has decided to keep the woman's identity anonymous due to an alleged domestic assault incident between the two days before the discovery.
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The woman, in a spotty and sometimes disinterested testimony, said that she and Casey met in late 2014, and soon moved in together in Frisco where they each worked at separate hotels. She recalled that Casey had a computer, which she used "a few times," though she doesn't remember why. When pressed for details regarding the discovery of the illicit materials and her subsequent reporting to police, she expressed essentially no independent memory of the events. Instead she was pointed to the statements she gave police in 2015, agreeing that her statements were accurate.
After discovering the child pornography on Casey's computer on June 20, 2015, the woman contacted the Frisco Police Department and handed over the computer to former Frisco officer Eric Hnat, along with a flash drive she created herself as a backup. About a week later, the woman turned in a second flash drive to police, though she couldn't recall why it was turned in so late.
In questioning from Lombardi, the woman noted that she "can use a computer," but said she lacks any sort of "hacking" skills. Of note, the woman has a criminal record herself. She was arrested on a burglary charge in 1999 and plead guilty to criminal impersonation in 2000.
The rest of the day's testimony came from former and current Frisco police officers who worked on the case. In what was a relatively uneventful string of testimony, the officers described their respective responsibilities related to the case, as well as the chain of custody that brought the computer and flash drives to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for forensic analysis and back.
In his testimony Hnat, now Denver Police Department officer, recalled his contact with the woman, confirming that he accepted custody of the computer, flash drive and a second flash drive a week later. He noted the woman told him she created the flash drives as safety measure in case anything happened to the computer, and that she said she forgot the second flash drive on June 20. Ahmet Susic, a marshal for Blue River and former Frisco police sergeant, was next to take the stand. Susic was Frisco's evidence custodian at the time of the discovery, meaning he was the individual who had access to the evidence room to admit and remove different pieces of evidence. He described to the jury how the evidence in this case — the computer and flash drives — was stored, highlighting the process of sealing the drives in envelopes and recording all the instances they were removed for analysis by attorneys and investigators.
Finally, Neil Brown, the lead investigator from Frisco PD on the case, took the stand. After reading the report written by Hnat and the witness statements from Casey's ex, Brown obtained search warrants to seek out sexually exploitative material involving children on the computer and flash drives. He took the evidence to Paul Anderson, a forensic computer specialist with HSI for analysis.
Brown said he took the evidence himself straight from Frisco to the secure HSI headquarters in Grand Junction and returned the evidence himself to Sucic, who put it back in the evidence room. This seemed to be a point of emphasis for Lombardi and the prosecution, who throughout the day's questioning seemed intent on implying to the jury there was essentially zero chance evidence was altered or tampered with after coming into police custody.
Brown said that Anderson, who is expected to testify for the prosecution on Wednesday, returned the results of his analysis within days, noting that he had found "hundreds of sexually exploitative photos and videos" of children on Casey's computer. Anderson supplied multiple CDs containing evidence for law enforcement, which were also admitted to evidence by Frisco PD.
Brown also said that he had a follow-up meeting with Casey's ex at the Frisco Police Department. She told Brown that she received Casey's permission to fill out a job application on his computer sometime in 2015, and subsequently had "permission to use the computer on a regular basis."
Brown wrote an arrest warrant for Casey and took him into custody.
In his cross-examinations of the police officers, Banta's questions were straightforward. He asked if the officers could identify a brand on the computer, to which they all replied "no." The computer was custom built, and Banta questioned if the officers could identify whom it was built by, when it was built, where it was built, or where the parts came from. None of the officers could speak to the who, when or where of the matter.
Questioning the origins of the computer and its parts appears to be Banta's primary tactic thus far, implying that the hard drive may have contained illicit material without Casey's knowledge. In addition, Banta was quick to point out that there are no witnesses who had prior knowledge of the material on Casey's computer, nor did anyone witness him download or view any illicit material at any point.
Despite a short day in court — Fifth Judicial District Judge Mark Thompson called a recess in the early afternoon to address legal matters related to jury instructions — the trial is moving along more quickly than expected. The prosecution is expected to call three additional witnesses on Wednesday, after which the defense will have an opportunity to do the same. Closing arguments and jury deliberation are likely to begin sometime Thursday.
The trial will resume at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, bringing testimony from Paul Anderson and a pediatrician expected to shed light on the age of the individuals in the pornographic materials.