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Child porn trader with cancer could remain free during appeal

Michael D. Meister, who has incurable cancer, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday but is appealing.

Michael D. Meister, who has incurable cancer, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday but is appealing.

TAMPA — The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals made things easier Tuesday for a child porn trader with incurable blood cancer who has tried to prolong his days as a free man under the care of Moffitt Cancer Center.

Michael D. Meister, 58, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara, and a presentencing report recently referenced in court recommended a prison sentence of 24 to 30 years.

The latest turn? The appellate court, clarifying a point of law, bestowed upon the judge the authority to allow Meister to remain free while he appeals his conviction, often a long process.

Meister admits that he collected and shared child porn but takes issue with the 2007 police search that led to the charges.

Until Tuesday, the judge wasn't sure he could extend bail.

Ordinarily, federal judges can grant release on appeal if persuaded that a defendant who poses no flight risk or danger to the community raises a substantial question of law on appeal that is likely to result in a reversal, new trial or no prison time.

For instance, Cortnee Brantley, ex-girlfriend of a man who killed two Tampa police officers, is free while appealing her federal conviction for failing to tell authorities that the man, felon Dontae Morris, had a gun.

Child porn felons typically are not granted post-conviction bail because federal law categorizes the offenses as crimes of violence. The law allows an exception to be granted by a "judicial officer," which Lazzara interpreted to mean an appellate court judge.

He already is on record declaring Meister's situation exceptional, after hearing Moffitt oncologist Melissa Alsina describe the patient's aggressive type of multiple myeloma as stable but not in remission. That was Nov. 15. She said he will relapse and there is no way to know when.

"At any time, the disease can become more active and we would need to make a change in the treatment," she said.

The doctor's testimony that day wasn't all grim. She toned down Meister's prior assertions that he had six months to live. She said if he stopped responding to his current treatment, she still had other drugs to offer.

She expects Meister to outlive a three-year mean survival time, taking him to the coming February, but she could not say with any degree of medical probability that the disease would remain stable for five years.

Five years is the minimum sentence he could get under a mandatory provision of the law, because he distributed child porn along with collecting it.

The judge has expressed concern about the ability of detention deputies and corrections facilities to deliver the same level of medical care that Meister has been receiving.

Dr. Alsina said if Meister went to prison, she would consult with prison oncologists about his case.

Meister, a business consultant, lives in Pinellas County. He is married with two adult sons. His wife filed for divorce last month.

Staff writer Philip Morgan contributed to this report. Patty Ryan can be reached at pryan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3382.

Child porn trader with cancer could remain free during appeal 12/17/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 17, 2013 11:33pm]

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