Child-Abuse Book Doesn’t Excuse Porn Collection

     (CN) – An MIT grad who said the child pornography he downloaded was for research on a book about sexual abuse was properly convicted, a Texas appeals court ruled.
     In 2011, Mark Robison, then age 59, was arrested in connection to thousands of files of child pornography that police found on his computer.
     Robison, an alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and CEO of his own software business, admitted that he had downloaded the images, but claimed that he did so only as part of his research for a book co-authored by his wife on child sexual abuse and child pornography.
     He testified that both he and his wife were sexually abused as children. Prior to Robison’s arrest, he co-hosted a radio program on child sexual abuse, and ran a website that invited visitors to share their personal stories of abuse.
     Robison published his book, titled “Help Us Please: What You Can Do to Eradicate Sexual Abuse and Child Pornography,” after his indictment.
     The trial court refused to let Robison enter this book into evidence, but did let him testify about the book’s content. Robison also was denied permission to enter into evidence a book of poetry he had written about his experience of sexual abuse.
     Expressing their doubt of Robison’s story, prosecutors noted that he made no effort to contact law enforcement about his research, despite knowing that police frequently track online pornography.
     In addition, Robison’s computer did not include a single scholarly article as part of his research. Robison also did not tell his wife he was downloading child pornography – although he was allegedly writing the book with her.
     Last week, the 14th Court of Appeals in Texas upheld Robison’s convictions on three counts of possession of child pornography.
     “Assuming without deciding that the book should have been admitted, we conclude that any error in the trial court’s decision to exclude the book was harmless,” Justice Tracy Christopher wrote for a three-person panel. “The jury heard a substantial amount of testimony that appellant desired to educate the public about child sexual abuse and child pornography. Appellant’s book was just one of several means of achieving that goal.”
     The jury heard Robison’s testimony on “nearly every subject” covered in his book, as well as uncontroverted evidence that he produced a radio show and ran a website to raise public awareness about child sexual abuse, according to the ruling.
     “Thus, even without the book having been admitted into evidence, the jury was still able to consider whether appellant possessed the child pornography for a bona fide educational purpose,” Christopher wrote.
     Robison did persuade the court, to little end, that his defense attorney provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to the prosecutor’s comments about how Robison remained silent on redirect examination. The prosecutor also remarked at trial that Robison never mentioned his research at 11 pretrial hearings.
     “The prosecutor’s line of questioning was neither relevant nor appropriate, and we can think of no reason why counsel would not object to the improper criticisms of appellant’s in-court silence,” the court found.
     Given that Robison also maintained his silence about his research during the execution of the search warrant, and that he did not disclose it to his wife, the court found that the aforementioned failings by his defense was not enough to overturn the conviction.
     Christopher said that the court was “not persuaded … that the outcome of the trial would have been different but for counsel’s failure to object.”

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