A federal jury yesterday found former Whispering Palms School principal Thomas Weindl not guilty of charges of accessing child pornography websites using a Public School System-issued laptop.
After deliberating since Thursday afternoon, the 12 jurors gave a unanimous not guilty verdict against the 68-year-old Weindl on charges of attempted receipt of child pornography and access with intent to view child pornography.
Shortly after a court staff read the verdict at 1:35pm, Weindl's face turned red, then he tightly hugged his lawyer, David G. Banes. Beaming, he turned and nodded to a few friends in the gallery.
He also tried to say something to the court, raising his right hand at least twice, but U.S. District Court for the NMI chief judge Ramona V. Manglona did not allow him to speak.
She ordered Weindl's immediate release from the custody of the U.S. Marshal.
“You are free to leave,” Manglona told Weindl.
In an interview with reporters after the hearing, Weindl said he's just extremely elated that the case is finally over.
“I'm just really looking forward to starting the next chapter of my life,” he said as he thanked his lawyers, Banes and Michael Dotts.
Weindl said he is extremely grateful to the jury.
“I think they reached a just and very appropriate ruling, verdict. It's just good to breath fresh air and come out from the front door instead of the back door,” he said.
Banes said they are glad the jury really looked into the evidence. He believes that the strongest argument was that the prosecution could not show what Weindl saw.
“So they couldn't tell the jury what Tom allegedly saw. They said, 'Well, maybe it's this, maybe it's that,'” the defense lawyer said.
When asked for a brief interview, assistant U.S. attorney Rami Badawy said he has to check with his office first if it is proper for him to comment.
Assistant U.S. attorney Garth Backe assisted Badawy during the trial that began on Jan. 28.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Weindl on June 28, 2012.
The prosecution alleged that Weindl searched for and accessed almost 200 websites containing images of child pornography, as indicated in e-blaster reports that FBI special agent Joe Auther allegedly received.
E-blaster is a computer and Internet monitoring software program.
The PSS-issued netbook that Weindl allegedly used had been issued to Auther's son. Auther and his family were then transferring to the U.S. mainland so he returned last year the netbook to Weindl, who was then a school principal. Auther testified that he installed an e-blaster on the netbook in 2011 in an effort to monitor his son's Internet use.
Soon after Auther turned over the netbook to Weindl, he began receiving e-blaster reports indicating that his son's netbook was accessing child pornographic materials on the Internet from June 15 to June 18, 2012.
The prosecution alleged that Weindl searched and accessed almost 200 websites containing images of child pornography. They said several of the searches specifically reference “eleven year old girl” and “twelve year old” engaging in sex.
The prosecution said Weindl also searched for images depicting the violent sexual abuse of children.
During trial, the prosecution showed only three images.
Banes pointed out during trial that his client admitted to viewing websites containing pornography out of “inappropriate curiosity,” but he never stated child pornography.