December 15, 2010

Former teacher cleared of all child porn charges

By Betty Adams badams@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

BATH — A Sagadahoc County jury on Tuesday cleared a former Mount View Junior High School teacher of child pornography charges.

Michael J. Douglas, 43, of Augusta, faced two counts of possession of sexually explicit material of minors. The jury returned verdicts of not guilty after deliberating for about two hours.

“This was a highly unique case that asked the question: Is looking at illegal images on websites ‘possessing’ them?” said Walter McKee, Douglas’s attorney. “We said no way. The jury agreed.”

After the jurors left the courtroom, Douglas hugged a number of people who came to support him in the final day of the two-day trial. “This has been a long and arduous ordeal for Mike,” McKee said. “He is relieved it is finally over."

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker, agreed the case was unusual. “Many times you have some other evidence of possession other than just the viewing of sexually explicit conduct on a computer,” he said.

Walker said the case might lead to the Legislature reconsidering the definition of possession, and redefining the statute to apply to possession or viewing of sexually explicit materials depicting minors.

Walker told jurors Douglas possessed child pornography on his school-issued laptop and his home computer in Augusta around March 31, 2009.

Jurors took printouts of two of the images into the jury room with them.

“Look at those images,” Walker told them before they left. “You will see what Mr. Douglas saw and saw hundreds of times on his home computer and on his school-issued computer where he was a teacher. He sought out these images on the Internet. He found them. We know he used certain words to search.”

Witnesses for the defense, called by McKee, testified Douglas was unable to do all but the simplest Internet searches. McKee said Douglas viewed child pornography but did not possess it. 

“He did not possess anything at all,” McKee said. “What he did was look at an image on a website somewhere else. He did not control it; he did not have dominion over it. He looked at an image that was somewhere else.”

McKee likened Douglas's actions in looking at the material to a person reading the WikiLeaks documents on line.

“Under the state's theory, if you look at those documents and you see those stolen documents, because you could download and could print them, you are in possession,” McKee said. “When someone goes on the Internet and looks at an image, it is not possession.”

Testimony from forensic computer examiners with the Maine State Police indicated the images found on Douglas’s computers were in unallocated space on his hard-drive. Troopers testified Douglas told them he looked at the pornography but thought he had deleted it.

Douglas opted against testifying at his trial.

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm told jurors that they had to decide whether Douglas intentionally or knowingly possessed a computer data file that he knew depicted a youngster engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

Douglas, a science teacher for more than four years at Mount View in Thorndike, resigned his post on April 3, 2009, shortly after a school computer technician reported questionable websites had been accessed on his school-issued laptop.

A spokesman for the Maine Department of Education said Douglas remains certified to teach general education in grades kindergarten through 8. The certification is due to expire July 1, 2013.

For years, Douglas has taught survival skills at the Maine Primitive Skills School in his home in Augusta.

Douglas was also acquitted by Justice Hjelm on Monday of two additional explicit imagery charges. The jury on Tuesday decided the remaining two.

A jury in Kennebec County in 2000 a cleared Douglas of seven charges of assault and unlawful sexual contact involving four girls at a Belgrade summer camp where he was a nature and ropes counselor.

When Douglas was indicted on those charges in 1999, he resigned his post at Somerville Elementary School, where he had taught for 21⁄2 years.

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