Tension at Raniere Trial as Child-Porn Evidence Shown to Jury

In the sex-trafficking trial of NXIVM leader Keith Raniere, prosecutors introduced this photo showing the “first-line masters” of DOS, a secretive sex cult within the group. Raniere, their “master,” is pictured at center, with Lauren Salzman in the top-left corner. The government redacted the image of Camila as she is a sex-crime victim. (Source: U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York.)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Angling an open red binder in such a way that no one else in the court could see its contents, an FBI agent confronted jurors Thursday with over a dozen images of child pornography said to have been created by NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere.

Special Agent Meagan Rees solemnly approached the jury box with the evidence this morning during the direct examination of Brian Booth, a senior forensic examiner and IT specialist for the FBI.

As she flipped slowly through the binder, displaying each page to jurors for several seconds, it was otherwise silent in the chilly, nearly full Brooklyn courtroom.

No one provided a verbal record of the images or indicated who appeared in them, though the indictment charges Raniere with sexual exploitation of a Mexican national known only as Camila, whom prosecutors say was 15 when Raniere started having sex with her.

The jury consists of eight men and four women, plus four alternates. While usually inscrutable, some on the panel appeared moved, even pained, as Rees flipped through the binder.

Several male jurors appeared to be trying not to look at the images, averting their gaze after a quick glance at a page, their heads swinging back and forth almost in unison as if on a pendulum. Some briefly touched their foreheads as if to shield their eyes.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Hajjar prefaced the display the prior afternoon, after jurors were dismissed, telling U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis the government expected to introduce about 18 images of child pornography — “each of the images that’s been charged” — on Thursday morning.

Throughout the trial, Raniere has been observed busily writing by hand at the defense table, and this held true Thursday as jurors reacted dramatically to what they were shown.

Before the presentation, Booth testified for about two hours about his examination of electronic evidence found on a Western Digital hard drive that investigators obtained by search warrant from a house at 8 Hale Drive in Halfmoon, N.Y., which is said to have housed Raniere’s “executive library.” Booth said images of child pornography were found in a folder on this hard drive. He also discussed a memory card and a Canon EOS camera, which prosecutors say Raniere used to take the child-pornography images and other nude photos of his adult sexual partners.

Prosecutors introduced  as court exhibits metadata for the images, including what appear to be date stamps that show the photos were taken on Nov. 2 and 24, 2005, when Camila would have been 15.

Earlier in Raniere’s trial, Camila’s older sister Daniela testified about having discovered their relationship in 2006, when Camila was 16. The women have another sister, Marianna, who is the mother of one of Raniere’s children.

Raniere’s lawyer Paul DerOhannesian tried to poke holes in the FBI’s examination process on cross-examination Thursday, pointing out that Booth did not personally collect the devices from the Hale Drive house. FBI Special Agent Christopher Mills testified earlier this week to finding the hard drive, camera and memory card while executing the search warrant.

Through a series of questions about the complex processes involved in forensic examination of electronic evidence, DerOhannesian also pointed out that metadata is unreliable — suggesting the photos might not have been taken when the data indicates they were taken.

Booth said to DerOhannesian, “You’re throwing a very broad stick at this,” when DerOhannesian said metadata could be changed by anyone at any time. But making copies or backing up a computer could change that data, Booth confirmed.

At trial adjourned Thursday, prosecutors said they expect to rest their case after finishing up with current witness Michael Weniger. An FBI case agent, Weniger is likely to finish up his time on the witness stand Friday.

In addition to sexual exploitation of a child, Raniere is on trial for racketeering conspiracy, forced labor, wire fraud and other charges.

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