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Child-porn case verdict delayed

Following a two-day trial on child pornography charges in Orange County Circuit Court, Robert Jeffrey Kobman will have a two-month wait to learn his fate.

The ex-Locust Grove Middle School technology teacher, who was fired in June after being indicted by a grand jury, faced 54 counts of felony possession of child pornography in this trial.

He was convicted in August of misdemeanor assault and battery and sentenced to 12 months jail time, with six months suspended, in Orange Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

The charges are the result of an incident in which, on the last day of school in 2012, he asked an eighth-grade student to follow him into a room at the back of his classroom. He then told the student that he “had always had a crush on her” and hugged her.

The current trial was heard by Judge Daniel R. Bouton on Wednesday and Thursday. Kobman was represented by attorneys Daniel Hawes and August McCarthy, who made two motions to dismiss the charges.

One was to dismiss 21 counts of the charges on the grounds that the defendant had been denied a speedy trial. The other was to strike the commonwealth’s evidence based on McCarthy’s contention that there was a “grave distinction” between computer stored data and visual images, and that nothing in the state statutes prohibits the possession of data.

The judge denied both.

Two Orange County Sheriff’s Office investigators testified they obtained a warrant to search Kobman’s home based on a report from his wife that he had child pornography there.

They said that during the search, Kobman told them where to find a desktop personal computer and a laptop that had been issued by the Orange County school system.

Two Virginia State Police witnesses, Special Agent Mike Jedrey and Digital Forensics Examiner Thomas Heflin, testified that when they ran software to search the computers for child pornography, they recovered numerous such images in the recycling bin and in the unallocated space in the hard drive.

Orange County School System’s Director of Technology, Darryl Hatfield, testified that he had issued the new laptop to Kobman after purchasing it and performing the initial setup. He said no pornographic material was on the computer when it was issued.

The sole defense witness was the president and founder of a cybersecurity company, who testified that special software is needed to access data in the unallocated hard drive space, and that the Windows computer operating system could not access such material without additional software.

He also testified that it is possible for files to be downloaded from the Internet to a computer’s temporary Internet cache without the operator’s knowledge.

Defense attorney McCarthy contended that Virginia statutes prohibiting possession of child pornography specified such things as visual images, but did not directly address strings of data stored on a computer.

The prosecutor argued that statutes did include references to “similar visual representations,” and pointed out that such things as undeveloped photographs could also be characterized as “sexually explicit visual representations” under the law.

After both sides rested, Judge Bouton noted that the case was highly technical and he was not prepared to hear final arguments.

In a rare move, the judge required both sides to submit written closing arguments by Jan. 24 and set a Feb. 7 deadline for the lawyers to respond to each other’s written arguments.

Bouton said he would rule on the charges at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 28.

Dan McFarland:

dmcfarland@freelancestar.com

 

 

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