Federal prosecutors argued James Cameron, who is now the subject of a nationwide manhunt, was a flight risk when they indicted him on child pornography charges in 2009, but a federal appeals court this year released him from prison while his appeal was pending.
Cameron was convicted on 13 counts in 2010 and sentenced to 16 years in federal prison.
While free on bail earlier this month, Cameron cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet and fled from his house in Rome on Nov. 14 or 15, hours after learning that seven of his appeals had been rejected and he was likely going back to prison.
A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, which is leading the search for Cameron, said Tuesday that there were no updates on the search.
The possibility that Cameron would flee was addressed in court documents in July 2009, when Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Malone, who was prosecuting Cameron, said in an affidavit that she had broken a promise to Cameron’s attorney, Peter Rodway, because she had learned that Cameron traveled overseas in the weeks before his indictment.
Rodway, who is no longer Cameron’s attorney, said Tuesday that Malone promised that “when she got ready to indict him, she would tell me and I would produce Jim at the time and place they told me.”
He said that would ensure that no arrest warrant would be issued for Cameron, who spent 18 years as an assistant attorney general until he was fired in April 2008.
In the affidavit, Malone wrote that after she made the promise, her office learned that Cameron had gone abroad on “a number of occasions, including more than once in the final weeks preceding the indictment.”
Rodway said he didn’t know where Cameron went, and Donald Clark, another assistant U.S. attorney, said he couldn’t discuss that.
“We … became concerned that (Cameron) might flee if he was aware that charges were imminent,” Malone wrote. “Because of these concerns, we were not willing to honor that promise and instead sought a warrant for his arrest following the return of the indictment.”
Pre-trial bail conditions forced Cameron to surrender his passport and not seek another one.
An order from U.S. District Judge John Woodcock following Cameron’s conviction in August 2010 said there was “no evidence that Mr. Cameron is likely to flee,” but since he had been convicted of the crimes, “his flight potential is elevated.”
With that order, he denied Cameron’s request to be released after the verdict.
Woodcock, who presided over the trial, sentenced Cameron in March 2011 to 16 years in prison.
Five months later, with the convictions under appeal, the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Cameron could be free on bail while his appeal was pending.
In its ruling, the court suggested that a change in law generated “exceptional reasons why (Cameron’s) detention would not be appropriate.”
Under the conditions of his release, Cameron was ordered to submit to GPS monitoring, register with “all pertinent sex offender registries,” report to a probation officer, post an unsecured $75,000 bond, adhere to a curfew set by a supervising officer, and participate in Internet monitoring.
A court document filed by Cameron’s federal probation officer earlier this month said Cameron had complied with all of his conditions of release.
In an email, Peter Horstmann, Cameron’s current attorney, said Tuesday that Cameron was never a flight risk and Malone’s affidavit from 2009 “does not shed any new light on the matter.”
Rodway said he never saw anything that suggested Cameron would flee, and was surprised to learn that he had.
“I don’t think they had any basis (to believe he’d flee) back then,” Rodway said. “In retrospect, it’s kind of hard to argue otherwise.”
Clark said Tuesday that there weren’t any warning signs other than what U.S attorneys argued early in the case.
He said the concern raised in 2009 was based on several circumstances, including the seriousness of the charges, Cameron’s travel and the fact that he wasn’t living in Maine leading up to the indictment.
Published reports of Cameron’s first court appearance, in February 2009, say the government argued for Cameron to be held without bail until his case was resolved, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Margaret Kravchuk set his bail at $75,000 unsecured and released him to the custody of his brother.
Clark said the government was arguing that Cameron “posed a risk of flight which could not be satisfied by anything other than detention.”
While he was free on bail, Cameron “appeared as required right up until the day he was convicted at trial,” Clark said.
In an emergency motion for release filed in June 2011, which was granted that August, Cameron said he was not a flight risk.
He demonstrated that by saying he was free for 34 months — from a search of his home on Dec. 21, 2007, until his conviction on Aug. 23, 2010.
Rodway said he has talked with Cameron a few times since his release from prison. He called Cameron “one of the toughest people I know,” emotionally and mentally.
“He had a lot on his plate and was facing a lot of pressure, and he handled it pretty well.”
Kennebec Journal Michael Shepherd can be contacted 621-5632 or at: