Child porn suspect collapses in court

Posted Aug. 11, 2010, at 7:34 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:33 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — An Indiana man wanted in Tennessee for alleged production of child pornography collapsed Wednesday moments after a federal judge ordered that he be held without bail.

Matthew DeHart, 26, of Newburgh, Ind., started to stand up so a federal marshal could handcuff him and remove him from the courtroom, but DeHart suddenly sat back down in his chair at the defense table. He then slowly slid out of it onto the floor.

He lay on the floor on his side and appeared to be shaking and sobbing. Unable to get up on his own, U.S. Marshal Randy Ossinger helped DeHart into a chair. He continued to shake and did not respond to questions posed by his attorney, Virginia Villa of Bangor. DeHart did not lose consciousness and did not appear to be having an epileptic seizure.

Using her cell phone, Villa called DeHart’s father in Indiana. The federal public defender held the phone up to her client’s ear. After making unintelligible responses to the first few questions, DeHart was able to speak clearly to the person on the other end of the line.

DeHart was being held Wednesday evening at the Penobscot County Jail. He is expected to be held in Maine until his transfer to the custody of federal marshals in Nashville, Tenn., can be arranged.

Shortly before his collapse, U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuck found DeHart was a flight risk. She said the fact that he left home and went to Mexico shortly after his computers were seized in January and has been living in Canada this summer influenced her decision.

“I believe there is a higher risk of flight now that an arrest warrant has been obtained than there was when he went to Monterrey, Mexico, after the search warrant was served and his computers were seized.”

DeHart had been living in Canada attending school this summer — first in Montreal, and most recently on Prince Edward Island, Villa told the judge. The attorney did not name the schools.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Torresen asked that DeHart be held without bail. Villa said conditions such as electronic monitoring, house arrest at his parents’ home in Indiana and travel restrictions would ensure the defendant’s appearance in U.S. District Court in Nashville.

Although DeHart’s father did not appear in court Wednesday and did not speak with Kravchuk, Villa said he was willing to act as a third-party custodian for his son.

DeHart was arrested Friday in Calais. Details about his arrest have not been made public.

The federal warrant for his arrest was issued Friday.

DeHart, according to court documents, met two teenage boys who live in Franklin, Tenn., on the Internet between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2008, through the online game “World of Warcraft.” DeHart allegedly received pornographic videos and photos the boys made of themselves at his request.

In addition, DeHart is accused of posing as a teenage girl to get other underage boys to send him pornographic photos and videos of themselves.

The Indiana man came to the attention of law enforcement in January 2009 when a parent of one of the boys discovered sexually explicit photographs on the younger boy’s cell phone. The boys were 12 and 14 when they began communicating with DeHart, the federal prosecutor told the judge Wednesday.

Both boys allegedly told investigators that DeHart asked each of them to send him a picture of their genitals and also to e-mail the photos to an account he said belonged to some teenage girls in Indiana. The defendant, according to court documents, on several occasions drove the more than 175 miles from his home on the Indiana-Kentucky border to meet the boys, who live in a suburb south of Nashville.

DeHart allegedly brought them gifts and on at least one occasion provided one of the boys with beer and Adderall, a prescription drug used to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. The defendant also took one of the boys, who skipped school to meet DeHart, to a shooting range and provided the teenager with a gun, according to court documents.

If convicted of production of pornography, DeHart faces a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 25 years in federal prison.

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