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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jurors in Weindl case start deliberation

Shortly after closing arguments of both prosecution and defense counsels, jurors began deliberations yesterday afternoon in the trial of Thomas Weindl, a former school principal accused of accessing child pornography websites using a Public School System-issued laptop.

The 12 jurors did not immediately reach a verdict and were instructed to resume deliberations this morning.

In the U.S. government’s closing arguments, assistant U.S. attorney Rami Badawy said the 135 websites that Weindl viewed or accessed on June 18, 2012, is enough to convict him of child pornography and access with intent to view child pornography.

Defense lawyer David Banes said the U.S. government’s case against the 68-year-old Weindl is built on speculation and innuendo.

Badawy said the evidence showed that on June 18, 2012, the defendant “downloaded again and again” websites that contained child porn materials. Citing one of their exhibits, Badawy said they were able to confirm that the website viewed by Weindl was consistent with the content of the E-blaster report.

E-blaster is a computer and Internet monitoring software program. Reports from the E-blaster program installed on the PSS netbook allegedly alerted FBI special agent Joe Auther to Weindl’s online activity.

Citing another government exhibit, the prosecutor said that Weindl went to a website that contains a picture of a topless 11-year-old girl.

Badawy said that viewing child porn images is a crime of access with intent to view.

“If you have doubt, just look at his conduct,” said Badawy, citing that Weindl lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents; he blamed somebody else; and tried to cover up his crimes.

Badawy said that Weindl lied when he told FBI special agent Auther that he turned over the computer to the Public School System, then later told FBI special agent Edmund H. Ewing that he could not find the computer. Badawy said that Weindl also admitted that he broke the computer and threw it into the jungle.

In the defense’s closing arguments, Banes said the FBI searched Weindl’s office and computer but failed to find any child porn materials. No one could testify seeing Weindl viewing child porn, he added, and that no evidence shows him distributing or selling child porn.

He pointed out that Weindl indeed admitted viewing pornography but did not say child pornography. He said it is not against the law to Google pornography and that it is not against the law to view pornography. “It’s human to have inappropriate curiosity,” he added.

There is also no physical evidence, Banes said, as there is no computer.

“They want you to jump on, to connect the dots,” he told jurors. “The government wants you to convict Tom because of the nature of the crime and not on evidence.”

Banes said the government claims that Weindl visited or viewed 300 websites that contained hundreds of pornographic images but presented only three images from three websites as evidence.

The lawyer cited Internet technology expert Tami Loehrs, who testified that screenshots taken from websites are not reliable evidence.

“Her testimony is the only expert testimony we have,” he said.

Banes said the prosecution did not present evidence that Weindl clicked the links that contained child pornography.

“They cannot say exactly that the images were the ones that Weindl watched on June 18,” he said. “They are asking you to guess and speculate.”

In the government’s rebuttal, Badawy said they checked the same websites on June 24 and July 9, 2012, and the same images appeared.

Badawy said this proved that the defense expert, Loehrs, was wrong about her testimony that images in websites are constantly changing.

Badawy also questioned Loehrs’ credibility. He said the defense witness even admitted she never tested E-blaster and never used it before.

Badawy said that Loehrs readily blamed special agent Ewing for altering evidence, but on the prosecution’s cross-examination, she admitted to making a mistake.

The prosecutor said Loehrs testified about constant changing of images, but they saw the website in one exhibit that the images were still there on June 24 and July 9, 2012.

Badawy said they checked live in court during the trial the two websites and the same images appeared as those screenshots taken last year.

“She was either misleading or not reliable,” he added.

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