Sunday, April 21, 2024

Williamsburg Child Pornography Case Ends in Hung Jury

Matthew John Stickle (Photo courtesy Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail)
Matthew John Stickle (Photo courtesy Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail)

After more than six hours of deliberation, a jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict for a man accused of possessing and intending to distribute 22 files of child pornography.

The trial of Matthew John Stickle — which was originally scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday — ended at 6 p.m. Thursday with a hung jury, and the prosecution must now decide whether to try the case again or drop the charges.

A hearing has been set for 1 p.m. Wednesday to hear whether Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Maureen Kufro will try the case again.

For two-and-a-half days, the nine-female, three-male jury heard testimony regarding the laptop computer that contained 21 videos and one photo depicting child pornography.

They watched parts of all 21 downloaded pornographic videos that showed nude children engaging in sexual acts, heard the explicit titles of those videos, learned about the 2,700 search terms related to child pornography that were entered in the file-sharing software used to download the files and watched a video of the investigator’s interview with Stickle.

The jury wrote in a note to Judge Michael McGinty after more than six hours of deliberation they were stuck at a vote of 11 to 1 and there was “no chance” of the one vote changing.

During the trial, Kufro argued 43-year-old Stickle, who was arrested and charged with the 22 felony counts after a detective with the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children task force performed an undercover investigation, was responsible for downloading the files onto his laptop through a peer-to-peer file-sharing software called Ares.

“He sought and he downloaded images and videos showing children being penetrated, raped, sodomized and exploited,” she said in her closing argument, adding that simply by downloading the file-sharing software, he was intending to distribute the explicit material.

Lt. Scott Little, who investigated the case, said he also found three contraband videos showing Stickle with a minor on the laptop in a folder labeled “X” separate from the files downloaded from Ares.

Those three videos were the subject of separate charges alleging the manufacturing of child pornography, but the charges were previously dropped or dismissed, and the videos were deemed not relevant in the current trial.

McGinty had previously ruled the three contraband videos that allegedly involve Stickle were not to be mentioned to the jury during the trial, but when Nagel questioned Little on the stand about not pursuing an investigation on Stickle’s roommate from New York — who may have had access to his laptop — Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Maureen Kufro asked Little to explain why he made that decision. Little revealed he believed Stickle to be the primary suspect in the case after seeing the videos he said featured Stickle and a minor.

McGinty instructed jurors only to review Little’s statement about the three videos in the context of the question regarding why Little did not further investigate the man Stickle had been living with in New York, as Stickle is not being charged regarding the three videos in which he is allegedly involved.

Patricia Nagel, Stickle’s attorney, argued there were others — his fiancée, his roommate in New York and a childhood friend — who had access to Stickle’s laptop and may have downloaded the file-sharing software and put the child pornography on the laptop.

She also pointed to the fiancée’s inconsistent statements as a reason to doubt the guilt of her client.

The fiancée, a middle school teacher who began living with Stickle in a Williamsburg condominium in 2013, accessed Stickle’s laptop on at least two occasions to enter grades into the school’s website, according to digital forensic evidence.

Nagel argued the fiancée initially told police she did not have access to Stickle’s laptop but recanted her statement after she remembered using it one time in December 2013.

Nagel said the fiancée “flat-out lied” that “she never touched that computer” during a preliminary hearing on the case in May 2014, but the fiancée said she did not remember using the computer until September 2014.

The defense’s expert witness Domingo Rivera testified he found hundreds of “hits” for the school system website where the fiancée worked in the internet search history on Stickle’s computer and saw her email address appear in the forensic analysis. The hits occurred on at least two separate dates.

Nagel argued her client had no idea how the file-sharing software or the child pornography got onto his laptop and therefore had no intent to distribute the files.

Stickle, who did not speak during the trial other than occasionally whispering to his attorney, still faces 22 felony counts of possessing with intent to distribute child pornography — nine of which are first offense, and 13 of which are subsequent or second offense — and will continue to be in custody at Virginia Peninula Regional Jail.

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