Assignments of error granted in Stickle appeal

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Almost one year ago, 46-year-old Matthew John Stickle was sentenced to 185 years in prison for possessing and distributing child pornography.

The Stickle case is not closed, however, and is in the process of an appeal.

With one year down and 184 years left of his sentence, Stickle has been granted an appeal by a Virginia Court of Appeals judge.

The appeal was granted Feb. 13 on three “assignments of error” in the previous trial in the Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court, which were raised by defense attorney Patricia Nagel, according to Court of Appeals of Virginia court documents.

Here are the specific errors that were granted:

Error one

The first assignment of error granted by a judge revolves around three possession of child pornography indictments from Stickle’s second trial.

In the petition for appeal, Nagel argued the three videos and indictments should require a separate trial. She stated in the petition the three videos are prejudicial in nature because they depicted Stickle, and were not factually similar to the other pornography material given as evidence for 22 other charges against him.

Nate Green, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Williamsburg-James City County Court, who originally prosecuted the case, said Stickle was originally charged with three counts of manufacturing child pornography for three videos he was depicted in.

Prosecutors dropped the three charges during the first trial after realizing they could not prosecute those charges, because the videos were made out-of-state.

In the re-trial, prosecutors brought the three videos back into evidence with three charges of possession of child pornography, not manufacturing of child pornography.

Error two

In the second issue granted an appeal by a judge, Nagel’s petition stated the court failed to find evidence used in the trial insufficient.

Her petition stated, “The Commonwealth had no actual evidence that Stickle knew the material was on the laptop attributed to him, therefore the Commonwealth attempted to prove constructive possession … to show that the accused was aware of both the presence and character of the substance and that it was subject to his dominion and control.”

“Mere proximity to the contraband is not sufficient to prove possession,” the petition continued.

Error three

The third issue granted by the judge involved what the defense believed to be an unlawful search of Stickle’s home.

The search was done by law enforcement without a warrant, using a “sophisticated device” to find evidence of child pornography against Stickle, the petition states.

“Surely, the police cannot tap our telephones in our homes to listen to our conversations on the off chance they may find incriminating evidence to use against us,” the petition states. “It is no different when the police search a home via access through phone lines that traverse the curtilage of the home.”