A jury made up of seven women and five men entered the 40th Judicial Court on Tuesday morning to hear testimony in the case of the State of Texas vs. Jeffery Dean Gerron of Ennis. Gerron is charged with 10 counts of possession of child pornography.
In 2006 Homeland Security conducted a nationwide investigation into a company that sold access to several websites. These websites allowed users to access and download images and other media considered to be child pornography. During the course of the investigation Gerron’s name was discovered as one of the alleged users of the website.
An indictment was filed against Gerron by a grand jury on Feb. 23, 2012 alleging that he had images of children younger than 18 years of age engaging in sexual conduct.
Defense Attorney Zach Redington entered a plea of not guilty on all counts.
Ellis County and Assistant District Attorney Lindy Tober made an opening statement before witnesses were called to testify. Homeland Security Agent Cynthia Manning was the first person to take the stand. Manning has worked with Homeland for the past 10 years and at the time of the investigation worked in the cyber crimes unit.
Manning said the office she works in Irving received Gerron’s name from a nationwide investigation conducted by Homeland of a company that sold access to child pornography websites. Gerron was one of hundreds of individuals in Texas that allegedly purchased access to the site. Some of the data that Homeland obtained from the site about users included their names, addresses and credit card information. The investigation on Gerron started in 2009. One of the first steps that Manning took in investigating Gerron was to speak with him at his residence in Ennis.
Manning said when she arrived at Gerron’s residence with Agent Noel Jones and were greeted by his mother. They were invited into the home and were notified that Gerron was still at work as an English teacher at Lancaster High School. Gerron arrived an hour later. The agents informed Gerron they were there because of identify theft and asked to talk in private where they revealed the real reason.
“He provided us with consent to search his computer. To search the computer we used a program called Field Search located on a thumb drive. This program pulls up all the images located on the computer,” Manning said. “At first it pulled up general images, then some Anime images and then some images consistent with child porn.”
Tober asked Manning what Gerron said when they notified him about the seizure of his computer. Manning said Gerron told them that he thought the images on it were legal due to the disclaimers displayed on the website.
Tober then asked Manning if it was easy to find child pornography sites online.
“Those websites are pretty hard to find because they (are working) to hide themselves from law enforcement,” Manning said. “You have to be actively searching for it.”
Redington followed Tober and asked Manning about the number of names her office received from the Homeland operation. Manning said it could have been more than 100 names.
Redingtion enquired as to why there was so long of a delay after she received Gerron’s name in 2007? Manning replied that there were many cases. Redingtion then asked if it was possible for these websites to feature disclaimers and not made in this country. Manning replied that it was possible.
Following Manning’s testimony Jones took a seat at the witness stand. Jones told the court that he assisted Manning when they went to Gerron’s home in Ennis where the questioned him. Jones said they first asked him about the possibility of identity theft and his credit card being used without his knowledge.
“We told him that his credit card was used on a child pornography site,” Jones said. “He said that he had purchased access to a pornography website, which had a disclaimer that it complied with U.S. laws.”
Jones said Gerron did comply with a search of his computer, which turned up images of child pornography.
Tober asked if Gerron state why he had the images on his computer. Jones answered and said that he, Gerron, had them out of boredom. Tober then asked how much did it cost to access the website. Jones said access to the website was about $80 for 20 days of access.
The final witness of the day was Jose Delgado. Delgado is a computer forensics investigator with Homeland Security. The computer that Agents Manning and Jones had seized from Gerron’s home was brought to him for an investigation.
County and District Attorney Seth McCloskey asked Delgado what the first step was in the investigation of a computer. Delgado said it depends on the case but the first step is to open it up and to see how many hard drives it contains. Once that is established a forensic copy is made of the data of the hard drives to write protect it. By write protecting the data it prevents data on the information from being changed, Delgado said.
McCloskey asked Delgado how many images containing children were found on the computer. Delgado said approximately 11,000 were found. These images were then flagged and sent to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to see if they have been found in other cases.
Delgado said in child pornography cases it is common to find file-sharing software that has been installed on a suspect’s computer. During his investigation he found that the file sharing software “Azureus” had been installed. File sharing allows file to free passed back and forth between users.
McCloskey then submitted into evidence a log from Azureus, which contained a list of, downloads. The file name of some of videos and images were very explicit in nature.
McCloskey asked Delgado if a user wanted to safe a file in a specific locating would he have to designate that. Delgado said a user would have to designate that the computer would not do it automatically. During the testimony it was reviled that Gerron allegedly created a separate file folder on his computer to where to store his photos.
McCloskey then submitted several hundred photos into evidence to which Delgado confirmed they were the images he saw on the computer he examined.
Redington objected to the photos being submitted into evidence saying they were prejudicial and the indictment only listed 10 images. Judge Bob Carroll overruled the objection. The court is expected to reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan 21.