By AISLING SWIFT
A Collier County man was acquitted Tuesday of charges that he possessed obscene photos of young boys after jurors heard testimony that other employees had access to his office computer and that three images were downloaded at times he didn’t work there.
The six-person jury deliberated about one hour before finding Shernon N. James, 23, of 4174 Green Blvd., No. 4, Golden Gate, not guilty of 10 counts of possessing obscene photos of sex acts performed by a child. As the clerk read the verdict, James clasped his hands, looked up and began wiping away tears.
“Rob did a very good trial and I think the evidence spoke for itself,” defense attorney James Moon said of Assistant State Attorney Robert Crown. He declined further comment and said James had no comment.
Crown praised the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for its investigation and noted that two witnesses — Sgt. Dan McDonald and Investigator Sotiere Nicholson — both testified that James admitted downloading the images onto the office computer.
“Because that admission wasn’t tape-recorded, the jurors didn’t believe the officers,” Crown said. “I respect their decision, but I don’t agree with it.”
James was arrested on March 25, 2005, 20 days after he was fired from his job at Florida Talent Consultants at because the owner, Kevin Smith, learned he and another employee planned to start their own talent agency; James had worked there about two years. Smith told deputies he had asked another man to examine the computer James had been using to make sure nothing was missing, when the photos were found.
During the two-day trial before Collier County Circuit Judge Lawrence D. Martin, jurors heard from six prosecution witnesses and two defense witnesses, including James.
On Tuesday, jurors heard a tape of an interview between McDonald and James, who denied downloading any images of child porn or seeing them before. On the tape, James also told McDonald that the five computers at the office didn’t require passwords and that the four or five other employees could access them.
During questioning by Crown, McDonald testified he went to the home James shared with another woman and found porn on a computer James and the woman used, but not on a computer belonging to the woman’s children. McDonald testified he examined a computer James used at a friend’s home and found nothing.
McDonald said when he interviewed James again, he admitted downloading the images at the office, but not at his home. McDonald testified he didn’t tape that interview because he only intended to ask James one or two questions. “I didn’t believe he would deviate from his original statement,” McDonald testified.
During cross-examination, Moon elicited testimony from McDonald showing that the porn at James’ home involved adults, not children. Moon also showed that McDonald never asked whether others had keys to the talent agency, and showed that two photos were dated before James worked at the talent agency and one was dated a day after he was fired, and all had time stamps after 5 p.m., a time when James and the other employees had left for the day.
Other testimony showed:
James didn’t have a key to the office, except during a six-week period that didn’t coincide with dates on the photos. The computer James used originally came from Smith’s office.
James, who operated a computer consulting business and built Web sites, had extensive computer knowledge. However, the pornographic images were never deleted, hidden or encrypted, but were in the computer’s recycling bin. And Smith and James e-mailed each other repeatedly, threatening what they’d do to each other’s businesses.