Saturday, November 18, 2017
News Roundup

Ex-American Airlines pilot on trial in local child porn case

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TAMPA — Donald E. Gallagher Jr. had the perfect life, a prosecutor said Tuesday.

A family who loved him. A 5,800-square-foot residence in a secluded St. Petersburg neighborhood. A job flying jets for American Airlines.

But the work is no more and the house is under threat of criminal forfeiture. He sits in federal court this week accused of using two relatives, both young girls, to produce child pornography in the Weedon Cove home he inherited in 2010 from his late sister, who was a pediatrician.

Gallagher's life, perfect or not, began to unravel on Jan. 9, 2013. That's when St. Petersburg police Detective Chris McClure, who specializes in uncovering crimes against children, went sleuthing online and noticed the availability of hard-core preteen porn through a file-sharing program on the pilot's computer.

It was child porn made by other people. But a July search of Gallagher's house turned up new videos with closeups of a man's hand inappropriately touching sleeping little girls. The background in the videos, shot in 2011? His guest bedroom, the government alleges.

"The movies the defendant made, they are not make-believe. They are real," Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacie B. Harris said in her opening statement. "They do not have a happy ending."

Gallagher, 52, is charged with possession, distribution and production of child pornography. The second and third charges carry mandatory minimum sentences of five years and 15 years.

The government reports finding 6,000 images and 237 videos. The defense disputes that they are all child porn. Defense attorney Jeffrey G. Brown said some might be considered "erotica."

After a jury was picked and sent home Monday evening, attorneys screened excerpts from eight videos before U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday, who is trying to guard against inflaming jurors while still letting the government put on its case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Josephine Thomas noted that the clips were brief. Some last less than 30 seconds.

"The brevity of the video is in the eye of the beholder," the judge responded, after having sat through one.

He declined a government request to let the jurors hear the audio portions. He agreed to give thought to Brown's concern about a video that shows a child victim crying. But, at least in the opening day of testimony, the judge allowed use of hard-core videos that showed sex acts committed by adult males.

Gallagher is accused of downloading them and making the files available to others.

Many of the jurors are parents themselves, with more than two dozen children reported by 12 jurors and two alternates. One juror is visibly pregnant.

Brown conceded in his opening statement that Gallagher possessed child porn. But Brown said Gallagher did not realize others could access his collection. As for the porn alleged to have been shot with Gallagher's camera, Brown said the images were kept in the closet. "These videos and photos, as offensive as they are, were simply left in a shoebox," he said.

It was the same closet where Gallagher's sister, Pamela Gallagher, was found dead June 1, 2010, records show. The cause of her death was undetermined, but it led to her brother taking the $472,000 house the federal government could soon own if he is found to have used it for child porn activities.

When interviewed by investigators last July, the pilot recalled that he had used a particular search engine to download child porn for about three years.

The trial continues today and is expected to last all week.

Staff writer Patty Ryan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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