Meridian Star

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November 25, 2013

Federal prosecutors appeal child porn acquittal

JACKSON, Miss. — Federal prosecutors are asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to order a new trial for a Mississippi man acquitted on child pornography charges.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments on Dec. 4 in New Orleans.

In 2012, James William Smith sought a new trial in a child pornography case arguing that the court made numerous errors. Instead, U.S. District Judge Sharion Aycock in Aberdeen, Miss., threw out the conviction and acquitted James William Smith of the charges.

Smith had been convicted of one count of possessing child pornography.

In asking for a new trial, Smith claimed the court made numerous mistakes, like allowing prosecutors to remove two blacks from the jury pool and allegedly allowing improper jury instructions.

The indictment in the case said Smith had movies of child porn on his work computer in Tupelo in 2011.

In her ruling, Aycock said the government failed to prove Smith knew the images were on the computer. She said evidence showed Smith and another person who had access to the computer were not at work when the government said the images were downloaded.

"To the extent the government introduced these records to prove that Smith had knowledge and access to the images," Aycock wrote, "the proof is just as likely" that the other person did, as well.

Aycock said trial testimony also revealed that Smith often left the computer logged in under his own username when no one was using the computer.

The government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Smith knowingly possessed the illegal materials found on his computer, Aycock said, adding it is just as likely that the other person downloaded the child pornography onto the computer, as Smith did.

Smith faced up to 10 years in prison upon conviction.

In its appeal to the 5th Circuit, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Roberts asked for the jury verdict to be reinstated and the case sent back to Aycock for sentencing.

"Smith's fanciful deconstruction of the evidence ignores the role of the jury as fact finder and encourages this court to be a 'super fact finder,' rejecting the jury's verdict. The District Court improperly engaged in this foray ... and this court should correct the District Court's error," Roberts wrote.

"The evidence was placed squarely before the jury. The jury made its credibility choice against Smith. There was nothing about the verdict or the conduct of the trial that denied or prejudiced Smith's 'substantial rights,'" he said.

Smith's attorney argued in briefs that if the 5th Circuit finds Aycock erred, it "should remand to the trial court for consideration of the merits of the motion for new trial."

"If the government is correct that the trial judge improperly weighed the evidence in granting acquittal, it seems likely she would grant a new trial if this court finds acquittal is not appropriate," Smith's attorney, Julie Ann Epps of Canton, said in briefs.

 

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