PHOTO BY ERIC FRANCIS
David Starrett, 48, of Wilder, was released on conditions Friday after he pleaded innocent to five felony counts charging him with possessing child pornography.
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A judge said Friday she had no choice but to allow a Wilder man accused of collecting child pornography to return to his apartment overlooking a playground.
“These types of charges are very distasteful … (and) if the court could impose bail to protect the public here, that’s what the court would do,” Judge Karen Carroll said in White River Junction criminal court.
But she said the accused man, David Starrett, 48, was clearly not a risk to flee.
Starrett stood silently at the defense table while a public defender entered innocent pleas to five felony counts of possession of child pornography, which together carry a maximum of 25 years in prison and lifetime registration as a sex offender if he is convicted.
Detective Richard Snetsinger of the Vermont Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force wrote in an affidavit that he had been investigating child porn sharing on the Internet. Starting in August, he said, he traced a large amount of such activity to an apartment on Hollow Drive in Wilder.
Investigators arrived there Thursday morning, but it turned out they had a search warrant for the wrong apartment, Snetsinger said, as the computers there did not contain child porn.
But investigators learned that residents there had shared their Wi-Fi password with Starrett, who lived a few doors down.
Starrett refused to allow a search, the detective said, so police evacuated the residence while Carroll issued a corrected search warrant within an hour. Then police found the child porn that had been traced, Snetsinger said, and Starrett was arrested.
During the search, the detective said, a relative told police Starrett spends his time “sitting in his room watching porn all day.”
Defense attorney Elizabeth Kruska said in court Friday that Starrett is disabled and collects Social Security disability payments for a range of ailments.
Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire described the material seized in Starrett’s home as “pretty horrific.” They include at least five videos of sexual acts between adults and children as young as 2 years old, she said.
Computer forensic experts will likely spend weeks documenting everything on Starrett’s computer hard drives, Maguire said.
She said investigators have so far not found anything to suggest Starrett created any of the child porn.
But she said detectives were interviewing parents of the children who use the playground next to Starrett’s apartment.
Maguire said one parent had already reported a suspicious incident in which he told Starrett to stay away from his 12-year-old daughter after Starrett had allegedly contacted her by email and asked “if she was a naughty girl.”
Holding up a photo showing how close Starrett’s residence is to the playground, Maguire asked the court to bar him from returning there.
But after Starrett said he had nowhere else to live, the judge said the most she could legally do was order him to stay in his apartment except for legal and medical appointments.
“The community in which he lives is going to be well aware of these charges, if they aren’t already,” Carroll said, adding that if he leaves the apartment his neighbors will certainly report it to police.
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