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In few hours, jury returns child-pornography conviction

by Dale Ellis | July 1, 2021 at 3:30 a.m.
A gavel and the scales of justice are shown in this photo.

A jury deliberated fewer than three hours Wednesday to convict a Cleveland County man on two counts of production of child pornography after a three-day trial in federal court in Little Rock.

Matthew Caleb McCoy was indicted by a federal grand jury in 2019 on the two charges after his ex-wife discovered a surveillance camera hidden in a bathroom of her home in Benton and videos and photos of herself, her mother, sister, another family member, and an unknown woman who turned out to be a customer of McCoy's father's security company among his belongings.

The charges stemmed from two videos made in October 2017 of the family member, who was 15 at the time the videos were made. The videos were discovered in December 2018 as McCoy and his ex-wife Holly were divorcing.

Jurors heard testimony on Tuesday from Holly McCoy, the family member identified only as "M.B.," a Benton police detective who investigated the original complaint, and an FBI forensics expert who examined electronic media devices owned by Matthew McCoy that contained videos and still images of the women.

Just before 11 a.m. Wednesday, assistant U.S. attorneys Kristin Bryant and John Ray White and defense attorney Christophe Tarver presented their closing arguments and Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. gave the jury final instructions.

Tarver rested the defense Wednesday morning without calling any witnesses and without introducing any evidence, arguing instead in his closing that the government had failed to prove its case.

"I'm not going to stand here and tell you that Matthew is an angel. He's not," Tarver said. "I'm not going to tell you he didn't do anything wrong. He did. But what I want to tell you is that he did not commit the crimes that he is charged with."

Tarver said the evidence in the case was based upon the two videos, which he said did not meet the definition of pornography.

"When you look at the videos what you see is M.B. in the bathroom, using the bathroom, getting out of the shower," he said. "You ... will have to make a determination as to whether or not this amounts to child pornography. ... Ultimately that decision is yours based upon common sense and the law."

Tarver attempted to cast doubt on M.B.'s testimony from Tuesday, questioning her assertion that McCoy had steered her into the master bathroom in order to take video of her, pointing out that it was the guest bathroom where the video camera was discovered that led to the discovery of the videos.

Regarding her testimony that McCoy had directed her to the master bathroom when she discovered the tub in the guest bathroom was full of baby toys, he said, "She's there visiting a newborn and there are toys in the bathtub -- for a 4- or 5-day-old baby -- so many toys that she can't take a bath."

In his closing statement, White advised the jury that the standard of proof needed to convict McCoy, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, did not intend to erase all doubt. He said absolute proof was not the legal burden he and Bryant had to meet.

"To be 100% convinced you have to be an eyewitness," White said. "If you are an eyewitness you can't be on the jury."

He said because McCoy lived in the house, he had the opportunity to install the cameras and because he worked for his father's security company, he had the knowledge to install and operate them. White also said the volume of images jurors had seen proved McCoy's intent. Although they would not be allowed to guess or speculate, he said, those factors combined with the evidence the government had provided allowed jurors to make reasonable inferences.

"What's a reasonable inference?" he asked. "When I left the house yesterday morning and I pulled the garbage can to the curb, it was chock-full. When I got back home from court I pulled it back up and it was empty.

"What happened in the middle?" White asked. "Well, the garbage man came. We all live with reasonable inferences day in and day out in our lives. That's what's called circumstantial evidence and that's why the law does not make a distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence."

White said the defense's contention that the recording of M.B. was an accidental recording and was not done intentionally didn't hold up under scrutiny.

"If all you had was exhibit 2, the Lexar thumb drive, it might be more difficult," he said. "But that's not all you have. You have cameras installed in both bathrooms and the bedroom. And video images and clips from those cameras on devices that Mr. McCoy had.

"You have the naming conventions and the grouping of photos on particular devices," White continued. "For example, The NAP series ... or the ASS series ... the TINA series ... those are all things you can take into consideration when you're deciding well, was this an accident that there happened to be a series of pictures and a couple of videos of the minor?"

As Bryant completed the closing statement for the government, she attacked Tarver's contention that the video did not meet the legal standard for child pornography and that there was no intent on McCoy's part to produce child pornography.

"The great thing about these videos is that they're not biased. They don't have a misrecollection about what happened. They speak for themselves," Bryant said. "When does the video start? When M.B. was on the toilet taking off her bra. ... Then she gets up and gets in the shower but before that she does what a lot of girls do in the bathroom when they think they're alone in their most intimate time. She looks at herself in the mirror nude. ... All of that is recorded. Then she gets in the shower and the video stops."

She noted that the video started again as M.B. exited the shower and continued until the girl had put on her undergarments, then stopped.

"When she's not naked anymore," Bryant said. "When he can't get any gratification from it because now she's dressed."

Just before 11 a.m. the seven men and five women filed out of the courtroom and headed to the jury room. At 1:45 p.m. the jury foreman sent word that a verdict had been reached.

At 2 p.m. the jurors filed into the courtroom. When the jury foreman read the first verdict of guilty, Holly McCoy, sitting in the gallery with family members, burst into tears. Matthew McCoy briefly closed his eyes but otherwise showed no reaction. He sat quietly as the second guilty verdict was read.

When court adjourned, Holly McCoy hugged Bryant, thanking her tearfully.

"Don't cry," Bryant said softly, smiling at the woman. "It's over."

Matthew McCoy will be sentenced later this year, Marshall said. He is facing 15 to 30 years in prison on each count.

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