Ed Andrieski AP file
In this July 2 photo, Nathaniel 'Ned' Solon
talks on the phone-intercom at the Logan
County Detention Center in Sterling, Colo.
So Nathaniel "Ned" Solon of Casper probably will live in "The Hole," or solitary confinement, for his own protection for three more years at the Leavenworth, Kan., federal penitentiary.
A federal jury convicted him in November 2008 of possessing and receiving child pornography on his computer, and the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the verdict in February and again April 7.
But it's not over, for him, his family, and potentially everyone who uses a computer.
The case underscores the vulnerability of Internet users and the legal system's apparent prejudice against the young field of computer forensics, his expert witness said.
"It can happen to anyone connected to the Internet. Period," said Tami Loehrs of Tucson, Ariz., who conducts computer forensic examinations of computers alleged to have been involved in chid pornography and other crimes.
His family adamantly asserts Solon's innocence and has spent about $100,000 on legal fees, travel and research in his defense.
"The best way you cope with this is to get angry," said his mother, Bette Brown, who lives in northeast Ohio.
Solon's attorney, Megan Hayes of Laramie, said she has one more, and very long, shot: appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court hears very few of the thousands of petitions it receives.
But the circuit court's split decision gives her some hope, Hayes said.
"I hate to give up, especially when the dissent was so scathing," she said.
Judge Carlos Lucero asserted that Wyoming U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer prejudiced the jury by berating Loehrs and by abruptly walking out of the courtroom as the defense attorney began his closing arguments.
Brimmer did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Ironically, Brown said she worked for Brimmer in the early 1970s.
"He's one of the kindest people I've ever met," she said. "But he was incorrect, he was misled."
The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Anderson, and U.S. Attorney Christopher Crofts declined to comment in light of the 10th Circuit's decision not to hear the case.
No saint, no sinner
Meanwhile, Solon's family copes with its grief and anger at the judicial system, his sister Natalie Hansen said.
No one connected to the case disputes the horror of child pornography, which the federal government regards as a crime of violence because it involves assaults on very young children who cannot give consent to sexual activity.
Randy Huff doesn't dispute the horror, either.
But he believes Solon, a previously convicted felon, is guilty.
Huff, then an agent for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, helped conduct the search of Solon's house on South Melrose Street and later testified for the prosecution.
"We got the right guy," said Huff, who now works as a law enforcement consultant for a firm that creates products to protect children, companies and governments from computer and other crimes.
"We got the right guy convicted, and the right guy is behind bars," he said.
Solon feared returning to prison, Huff said.
Solon, during an interview with law enforcement officials, said, "'He knew what happens to child molesters in prison,'" Huff said.
Hansen, Solon's sister, does not portray her brother as a saint, and does not excuse his criminal past, she said.
Solon pleaded guilty in 2000 to possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine. He was released from prison in October 2004, but violated his probation on a domestic violence charge in January 2006.
Although her brother would look at adult pornography, Hansen said he never had anything to do with child pornography.
His mistake, she said, started when he installed the Limewire "peer-to-peer" -- or P2P -- file-sharing software network.
Peer-to-peer networks connect computers directly with one another instead of going through traditional Internet servers. Their popularity soared a decade ago with the use of Napster and similar programs to illegally download music. P2P networks also became popular with people who trafficked in child pornography because of their anonymity relative to Internet servers.
Solon used it for playing poker over the Internet and downloading games, Hansen said. "He wanted 'Grand Theft Auto.'"
But the Internet Crimes Against Children agency of the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation saw something else, according to court documents.
In the summer of 2006, ICAC agents identified Solon's computer as offering files containing child pornography for downloading, according to court documents.
On Sept. 21 of that year, and after obtaining a federal search warrant, ICAC agent Nicole Balliett and Huff talked to Solon, who said he used the Limewire software to play online poker and had tried to download "Grand Theft Auto" the night before, but his anti-virus software had blocked the download.
During the search of his house, law enforcement conducted an initial check of the hard drive and found files containing only adult pornography, according to court documents.
Meanwhile, Hansen said her brother stood in the doorway of his house and flipped through the pages of the warrant, which detailed the file names of child pornography that had been traced to his computer.
"He tossed the paperwork behind an entertainment center, walked into his bathroom and threw up," she said.
Huff later conducted a forensic examination at his office and determined Solon's computer was used to play online poker, and shortly thereafter downloaded a number of digital video files with child pornography to an "incomplete folder." That number was later determined by the prosecution and defense as five retrievable files and previews containing child pornography, all in "unallocated space" on the hard drive.
On Jan. 18, 2007, he was indicted on a single count of possessing child pornography and was taken into custody.
The court set the trial for later in 2007.
In October, Solon pleaded guilty and was scheduled to be sentenced in January 2008, according to court documents.
But by then, he began having serious doubts about his decision, Hansen said.
Solon withdrew his guilty plea in April 2008.
He told the court he could not plead guilty to a crime he did not commit and that he felt forced to plead guilty because he could not afford to hire an expert witness, Hansen said.
In September, the court set the trial for November, and prosecutors filed a superseding indictment charging Solon with one count of receiving child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography.
The trial of USA v. Solon began on Monday, Nov. 3, 2008, and ended seven days later.
Balliett, Huff, and representatives of Qwest and the U.S. Postal Service testified for the government.
Solon himself, Hansen, Loehrs and a few others testified for the defense.
Solon's computer, Huff said later, had anti-virus software and few viruses and Trojans, incomplete and some complete downloaded files of child pornography -- an indication he viewed them, and an indication that he had files available for downloading, Huff said.
The government also showed videos corresponding with the file numbers of known child pornography.
Huff said these videos were on the computer, but Loehrs contended they were not accessible and Solon had not seen them.
Defense attorney Tom Smith unsuccessfully asked Brimmer to prevent the prosecution's showing of the videos because Loehrs was not able to play the previews to the files during her exam of Solon's hard drive.
"Therefore, according to the defense's expert, while the videos are present on the hard drive in unallocated space, there is no conclusive evidence that any of the five files containing suspect child pornography were ever viewed, saved, or copied," Smith wrote.
Because of their repulsive content, those videos would prejudice the jury regardless of how Solon's computer happened to receive them, he wrote.
Solon's mother agreed.
"Once they showed the videos from ICAC, the jury was gone," Brown said.
And Loehrs told the court she did not have the opportunity to finish her work for the defense because Brimmer balked at her first bill of $10,603.90, even though she was authorized to spend up to $20,000, she said.
Brimmer called her a liar and told the jury to ignore her comments.
He also abruptly left the courtroom without a recess as the defense began its closing arguments.
Brimmer returned six minutes later and said he had some letters to send because his secretary was playing canasta that afternoon.
During her 20-year career, Loehrs has dealt with some judges who did not behave as professionally as they should have, but Brimmer's behavior astonished her, she said. "I've never dealt with anything as odd as Judge Brimmer."
Loehrs never saw a judge walk out as the defense began its closing arguments, she said. "I've never had a judge yell at me in front of a jury."
During his jury instructions on Nov. 10, Brimmer said, "Nothing that I have said or done during the course of this trial is intended in any way to somehow suggest to you what I think your verdict should be."
The jury returned its guilty verdicts after deliberating for two hours.
Hayes continues to prepare Solon's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
She's received calls from attorneys nationwide who believe Brimmer's behavior affected the trial's outcome, and some have offered to work with her at no cost, she said.
Huff sees no need for an appeal because Anderson and the government proved Solon's guilt.
"You have to consciously go after that stuff," he said. "It was beyond the realm of possibly someone else did it."
Solon, fearing the wrath of fellow inmates, had every reason to claim the downloads were accidental, Huff said. "As a cop for 20 years, I think he's pulling my leg."
He's worked on scores of child porn cases over the years, he said. "The only difference between this case and the other cases is that he didn't accept responsibility and went to trial."
On the other hand, Loehrs said investigators and prosecutors have a long way to go before they grasp the details and implications of cyberspace and cybercrime.
"Most of them feel if it's there, you're guilty," Loehrs said.
Investigators have the ability to find illegal computer activity, but many don't know how to analyze it, she said. "That combination is deadly for people who are innocent."
And Solon's family continues to maintain his innocence.
They've started a website about his case and to alert computer users of their vulnerability, his mother said. "The site's intended purpose is to let Ned's situation 'all hang out' so it is available to be studied by the next unsuspecting victim of this injustice."
Solon still sits in The Hole and writes constantly to his family, Brown said.
In his most recent letter, he commented on an article about his case.
"I see Anderson says 'once they find the child pornography on the computer, it's pretty easy to make a case.' I would have to agree with him. It is easy for them to make a case to the owner of the computer, because they do not look beyond that to find out just how did it get on there. Most of that article I agree with 100%. But unfortunately, it does not mention the witch hunt that has started over their goal to do the right thing."
Reach Tom Morton at (307) 266-0592, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last we knew: Nathaniel "Ned" Solon of Casper lost his appeal on child pornography convictions on a split decision by three judges of the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals.
The latest: Solon lost a request to have all 10th Circuit judges hear his case, which he believes was prejudiced by Wyoming U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer.
What's next: Solon's attorney will file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.
On the web
The Solon family has set up a website containing the law enforcement documents, court documents, court transcripts and other materials. Visit http://home.comcast.net/~framedforchildporn/site
Posted in Local on Sunday, April 18, 2010 2:00 am Updated: 1:22 pm.