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Journalist receives 18 month sentence on child porn charges

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Journalist receives 18 month sentence on child porn charges 03/22/99 MARYLAND--A journalist who was not allowed to assert a First…

Journalist receives 18 month sentence on child porn charges

03/22/99

MARYLAND–A journalist who was not allowed to assert a First Amendment defense to charges of trafficking in child pornography on the Internet was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a federal district judge in Greenbelt in early March.

Journalist Larry Matthews has asserted since being indicted for violating federal child pornography laws in 1997 that he was working on a freelance article and needed to pose online as a trader in child pornography to adequately research the article, and that such reporting is protected by the First Amendment.

Matthews pleaded guilty to two charges of transmitting and receiving child pornography in June after federal District Judge Alexander Williams Jr. refused to allow the assertion of a First Amendment defense at trial.

During Matthews’ sentencing hearing, fellow journalist Leonard Deibert testified that Matthews often immersed himself in investigating stories as a radio reporter for WTOP-AM in Washington, D.C., where the two worked together for ten years. Deibert testified that he found it difficult to believe Matthews was downloading pornography out of personal interest, rather than for research purposes.

Anna Bardach, a contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine who appeared as an expert witness on the methods of investigative journalists, also testified that Matthews is a “critically acclaimed” reporter who has won national awards for his work.

The prosecution presented the testimony of an FBI agent, along with computer and online system experts, to contradict Matthews’ assertion that he was only researching child pornography for journalistic purposes.

After hearing the testimony, Williams stated that even if a First Amendment defense were available, Matthews had failed to establish that he was researching an article.

Matthews originally was charged with 11 counts of receiving and four counts of transmitting images of children in sexually explicit situations.

Federal public defender Beth Farber in Baltimore, who represents Matthews, said the sentence will be appealed, based on the judge’s ruling that Matthews could not argue his actions were protected by the First Amendment.

Matthews was given 60 days to report to prison authorities to begin serving his sentence. Williams recommended that Matthews serve his sentence in a halfway house, but Farber said the halfway house recommendation does not guarantee that Matthews will not have to serve his sentence in a regular prison. (United States v. Matthews; Media Counsel: Beth Farber, Baltimore)