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US Supreme Court denies Solon child porn appeal

Solon family vows more publicity

U.S. Supreme Court denies Solon child porn appeal

By TOM MORTON - Star-Tribune staff writer | Posted: Saturday, October 9, 2010 12:45 am

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal of a Casper man who claimed a Wyoming federal judge's courtroom behavior biased a jury's decision to convict him of possessing and receiving child pornography.

Nathaniel "Ned" Solon's attorney, Megan Hayes of Laramie, filed the petition for a writ of certiorari in June.

The Supreme Court receives thousands of these petitions and accepts only a few, such as the appeal by the father of a slain soldier whose funeral was picketed by the Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church, which believes God is punishing America for being pro-homosexual.

"I knew our chances were still quite remote," Hayes said.

Even so, the Supreme Court's denial -- without any explanation like most denials -- issued Tuesday came as a blow for her, Solon and his family, she said.

In a prepared statement, Solon's mother, Bette Brown, said the family will continue to work to persuade the justice system to do a better job of understanding cybercrime and how people can unwittingly download child pornography on their computers.

"The prosecution and imprisonment of innocent people has to stop," Brown said. "We will continue our efforts to keep this from happening to others. We want the public to be aware that this can happen to anyone. And, when it happens to others, we want them to know that they are not alone."

The family has started a website to help those in similar situations, she wrote.

"Ned is our son, brother, father, uncle and best friend. Ned is innocent.”

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Wyoming did not return a telephone call seeking comment Friday.

In January 2007, a federal grand jury indicted Solon on a single count of possessing child pornography after the Internet Crimes Against Children agency of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation identified his computer as offering files containing child pornography for downloading in September 2006, according to court documents. The federal government regards child pornography as a crime of violence because it involves assaults on very young children.

In November 2008, the case went to trial before U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer in Cheyenne.

Solon's defense hired computer forensic researcher Tami Loehrs of Tucson, Ariz., whose research indicated his use of the Limewire peer-to-peer network enabled a malicious virus to infect his computer, leading to the downloading of child pornography. These networks connect computers directly instead of going through traditional Internet servers.

However, Brimmer objected to her research fee, called her an "abrasive witness," and told Solon's attorneys not to use "'this woman with pretty exalted ideas of her worth,'" according to court documents.

As the defense attorney began his closing arguments, Brimmer abruptly left the courtroom and returned a few minutes later, apologizing because his secretary was playing canasta that afternoon and he needed to mail some letters.

A few hours later, the jury convicted Solon, who was sentenced to six years imprisonment.

The Denver-based 10th Circuit Court denied his appeal, but the three judges split their decision with one excoriating Brimmer's behavior.

In her petition to the Supreme Court, she asked whether Brimmer's behavior was so offensive -- a "structural error" in legal language -- that it warranted the automatic reversal of the verdict.

The high court doesn't accept electronic filings, so Hayes supplied the Star-Tribune copies of her paper filing and the one from the federal prosecutor assigned to the case.

Hayes said many writs do not receive answers, so she was encouraged when Acting Solicitor General Neal Kumar Katyal filed the opposition Aug. 23.

Katyal recounted the history of the case and wrote that Solon's computer offered child porn files for downloading four times in the summer of 2006, Solon's anti-virus software was working, 29 of the 46 files downloaded on Sept. 20 had been previewed and the Wyoming U.S. Attorney's perspective on the trial and subsequent appeal.

He also wrote Brimmer's absence did not affect the outcome of the trial, Brimmer made only one hostile comment about Loehrs, the judge's absence did not reflect on or discredit Loehrs' testimony, Hayes' citations of other cases of judges leaving courtrooms are different from what happened with Solon, and the government's case was strong.

"This case therefore presents no occasion to resolve the question that petitioner presents," Katyal said.

Reach Tom Morton at (307) 266-0592, or at tom.morton@trib.com.

Solon family's website

To learn more about this case from the family's perspective, visit www.framedforchildporn.com
 


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