Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Largo puppeteer won't face most serious charge in bizarre criminal case

LARGO — A professional puppeteer from Largo who captured international attention when he was arrested on suspicion of plotting to cannibalize a boy at his church will not face charges of conspiring to kidnap a child, a spokesman for federal prosecutors said Friday.

Ronald William Brown, 57, has instead been indicted by a federal grand jury on a count of possessing and a count of receiving child pornography, said William Daniels of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida.

The indictment, issued Thursday, is a significant turn in Brown's bizarre saga. It means the most sensational element of his case — a gruesome series of Internet chats in which he described to a man in Kansas his desire to kill, cook, and eat a child at Largo's Gulf Coast Church — did not constitute a crime, even by the traditionally loose standards of grand juries.

In an initial criminal complaint, federal agents sought to charge Brown with both pornography offenses and conspiring to kidnap a child. The latter charge, based on the chat sessions, could have led to life in prison. The pornography charges, by contrast, could lead to a sentence as short as five years.

"The indictment is obviously far less egregious than what he was initially accused of," said Eric Kuske, Brown's Tampa-based lawyer. He said it was "absurd" to prosecute his client over the instant messages professing a fondness for cannibalism, comparing Brown's writings to the grotesque but imaginary plots of movies such as The Silence of the Lambs and Dawn of the Dead.

"It's science fiction, for all intents and purposes," Kuske said.

He said he could not yet comment on whether Brown, who has been in federal custody since his arrest in July, would use the scaled-back scope of the indictment as grounds to argue for his release on bail. Prosecutors have said that Brown would pose a danger to the community if set free.

Daniels declined to comment on the dropping of the conspiracy charge.

Brown's arrest came as a shock to the many who knew him through his ties to youth programs in Pinellas County.

He was an active congregant at Gulf Coast Church in Largo — attending services with the boy he said he wanted to devour — and had worked for organizations including the Tampa Bay Rays and the Pinellas County School District. For years he performed on a children's show for the Christian Television Network.

Still, legal experts have said the available evidence did not seem to support a conspiracy charge.

"You have to be able to establish to a court and to a jury that there's something more to this than just mere words," said Largo criminal-defense lawyer John Trevena.

Federal agents who searched Brown's house at the Whispering Pines mobile home park in Largo found more direct evidence to support the child pornography charges in the indictment.

According to the criminal complaint against Brown, the agents discovered pornographic photos of minors bound and gagged on his computer, as well as "images of children that appear to be deceased."

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157.

Largo puppeteer won't face most serious charge in bizarre criminal case 10/05/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 4:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Police: Uber driver's gun discharges during fight at Adventure Island in Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — An Uber driver's gun went off Sunday at Adventure Island during a fight between the driver and two passengers.

  2. Baker cautious on Pride politics

    Elections

    Rick and Joyce Baker strode down Central Avenue Sunday amid rainbow flags, corporate booths, and blaring music of the St. Pete Pride Festival.

    St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Baker chats Sunday with people at the St. Pete Pride Festival. As mayor, Baker did not sign a Pride parade proclamation, but now he says he would.
  3. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.
  4. Lightning among early suitors for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he planned to explore free agency for potential needs, which include bolstering his blue line and adding a wing or two.

    Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who can be a free agent Saturday, counts the Lightning among his early suitors.
  5. Senate leaders try to appease members as support for health bill slips

    National

    WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill, even as opposition continued to build outside Congress and two Republican senators questioned whether the bill would be approved this week.

    Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on Thursday, is one of the five Republican senators who announced they cannot support the health care bill as drafted.