What kind of "justice" do federal prosecutors in the Western District of Missouri practice in alleged child-pornography cases. We would call it a radically unequal form of justice.
Consider Springfield, MO, resident Scott J. Wells, who has been detained for more than two years on charges of receiving and distributing child porn. The criminal complaint against Wells describes alleged unlawful acts that would be physically impossible to commit. (Details in an upcoming post.) The indictment against Wells contains zero specifics, or particulars, about his alleged wrongdoing, meaning the document is deficient as a matter of law. (Again, details upcoming.) The indictment should be dismissed ASAP, and in fact, never should have been issued. The government has a clunker of a case, but it has held Wells behind bars, as a "threat to society" since spring 2017, with a trial set for August. (Wells detention documents are embedded at the end of this post.)
Now, consider Branson, MO, resident William M. Walker. Court documents state that investigators found more than 174,000 image files and 6,500 video files of child pornography on his home computer. The Walker investigation began in June 2016, and he pleaded guilty to receipt and distribution of child porn in 2018. Now 76 years old, Walker currently is housed at a federal prison in Oklahoma City, where he is serving a sentence of five years imposed by U.S. District Judge Doug Harpool.
Heck Walker even was in the process of downloading child pornography when investigators first appeared at his house. (Memo to those considering a "career" in child porn: Be sure you aren't downloading the stuff when the feds knock on your door with a search warrant. Sort of hurts your chances of beating the rap.)
Throughout the court process that followed his arrest, Walker never was detained. In fact, James J. Kelleher -- the same lead prosecutor on the Wells case -- did not seek detention for Walker, even though his misconduct dwarfed that alleged against Wells, in size, scope, and every other measure one might consider.
Why did Kelleher not seek to put Walker behind bars, pending a trial, as he has done with Scott Wells? Well, you know the old expression, "It's who you know, not what you know that counts"? Walker, it turns out, knows some of the most powerful people in Southwest Missouri. Peter Herschend, co-founder and owner of Herschend Family Entertainment Corp. (parent company of the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson) spoke as a character witness at Walker's sentencing.
It's not clear if Walker knew Herschend from working at Silver Dollar City or its parent company. But it is clear that Walker benefited from connections Scott Wells did not enjoy. How outrageous was the conduct to which Walker pleaded guilty. Let's consider the Government's Sentencing Memorandum (embedded at the end of this post), under the heading "Factual Background":
Between June 28, 2016, and June 29, 2016, a law enforcement computer, using software designed to capture IP addresses of computer users attempting to download files containing depictions of child pornography via the Freenet, detected a remote user requesting a folder known as "Prelolitas-World_Anya A 9.rar." This folder is known by law enforcement to contain 123 images depicting a child under 12 years of age engaged in sexually explicit conduct. The same user also requested to download another folder containing 141 images of a child under 6 years of age engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
An investigative subpoena to Suddenlink Comunications identified the subscriber as William M. Walker, of 530 Oak Bluff Road, Branson, MO. A search warrant for Walker's residence was obtained and executed on August 10, 2016. The search yielded a stunning amount of evidence:
Upon arrival, the investigators located WALKER, the sole occupant of the home, and after advising him of his Miranda rights, questioned him with regard to his use of Freenet. WALKER acknowledged that he used Freenet to download images, but invoked his right to an attorney being directly confronted with the allegation that he was downloading child pornography.
What happened next? Well, it didn't help Walker's cause:
The investigators located WALKER'S computer in a second floor office. The computer was actively running the Freenet application. Detective Larry Roller opened the user interface and noted that the computer was in the process of downloading a batch of files known to law enforcement as containing depictions of child pornography. The computer, along with several USB drives, were seized by investigators. A forensic examination later yielded the discovery of approximately 174,121 images files and 6,572 video files containing depictions of child pornography
After letting this sink in for a moment, we have a few points:
(1) Walker actually was downloading child porn when investigators arrived at his house with a search warrant. Ouch! I'd say prosecutors had a pretty iron-clad case;
(2) Let that number of files sink in. As a total, Walker had more than 180,500 child-porn images on his computer;
(3) Lord, how did the darned thing run? How much memory did the guy have installed? How did the computer keep from collapsing under the weight of all that porn?
For our purposes, the No. 1 question at the moment is this: Why has Scott Wells been behind bars for more than two years -- even though the feds had no probable cause to arrest him or search his home; they charged him with an offense that is physically impossible to commit.
Meanwhile, William Walker, with his ties to the Silver Dollar City hierarchy, never faced pre-trial detention -- even though he was caught red-handed downloading child porn, in massive quantities.
In essence, the court decided Scott Wells is a "danger to society," while prosecutors never even tried to detain William Walker, pending trial. That's not remotely in line with the facts of the two cases.
How in the world did Scott Wells wind up behind bars for more than two years, currently in the Greene County Jail, even though he stands wrongly accused and has been found guilty of nothing? We will examine documents related to that question in an upcoming post.
(To be continued)