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Child porn trial leaves its mark on Tampa jury

Joseph Bullard, 30, who lived in Dover, went on trial Wednesday on charges of child pornography possession with intent to distribute. In the trial, jurors were shown evidence of all 51 counts. Bullard was convicted and faces 15 years for each count.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Joseph Bullard, 30, who lived in Dover, went on trial Wednesday on charges of child pornography possession with intent to distribute. In the trial, jurors were shown evidence of all 51 counts. Bullard was convicted and faces 15 years for each count.

TAMPA — The jurors wiped tears, shook their heads and took deep breaths. They averted their eyes from the television screen, but only briefly. Because they had a job to do. And it included looking at things most people didn't want to see.

In a Hillsborough courtroom Wednesday, five women and three men were shown 51 video and still images of child pornography, depicting the rape and molestation of children no older than elementary school age and some so young, they were in diapers.

"It kind of made victims of everybody," said Dan Hicks, an alternate juror.

The trial was rare. Most defendants accused of possessing child pornography accept plea deals which limit sentences. Joseph Bullard, 30, did not. Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters, who heads the division that prosecutes child sex crimes, could not remember a Hillsborough trial quite like this one.

The defense was so concerned about the inflammatory content of the images that attorneys unsuccessfully called for a mistrial upon seeing some of the jurors' reactions. Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe was so concerned that after the trial, he offered them the services of the victim's assistance program.

But Peters said showing the images was necessary.

They were evidence.

Bullard downloaded 51 pieces of child porn onto a computer in the Dover trailer park where he lived with his mother. Others lived there, but none knew the computer as well as he did.

He had a dozen file-sharing programs, the most an investigator with the Office of the Attorney General had ever seen. Bullard made a special folder for the porn files and catalogued favorites.

Along with the photos, prosecutors used a statement Bullard gave to the police.

"This all started probably 10 to 12 years ago," Bullard wrote. "I don't know why or how. It just did. I'm a firm believer that my condition as well as actual pedophiles act based on a genetic trait. I really wish there was some type of treatment for it. I'm not looking to be excused for doing this. I messed up really bad."

Bullard's public defender Robert Mactavish argued that his client made statements under the pressure and coercion of investigators.

But prosecutors also used a letter he wrote to his ex-girlfriend in which he apologized.

"There are so many times when I chose the computer over you," Bullard wrote. "I'm sorry, but you don't know how bad the sickness was. You don't know how bad it controlled me."

Ultimately, the jury found him guilty. He faces 15 years in prison for each count, adding up to a potential 765 years when the judge sentences him. Had he accepted a deal, his sentence would have been capped at 25 years.

The jurors left the courtroom, but the images would stay with them.

Earlier, during jury selection, attorneys repeatedly asked the pool members to raise their hands if they thought they wouldn't be able to do the job.

Hicks thought about it. But he decided to stay.

"If I tell them I can't," he remembers thinking, "someone else would have to."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Child porn trial leaves its mark on Tampa jury 06/09/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 10, 2010 10:17am]

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