James Cameron was released from prison while he appealed his conviction on 13 child-pornography charges in part because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prompted an appeals court to question whether prosecutors could uphold the conviction.
Because of those questions, the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals set Cameron free in August 2011 with the understanding that he would adhere to conditions including a curfew and electronic monitoring.
On Nov. 14, Cameron learned that the appeals court in Boston had upheld seven of his 13 convictions and he would likely return to prison while his case was sent back to U.S. District Court in Maine.
That night or in the early hours of Nov. 15, Cameron cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet and fled. Two weeks into a nationwide manhunt, he remains missing.
The relevant Supreme Court ruling, made last year in Bullcoming v. New Mexico, involved a drunken-driving charge.
During the trial, a supervisor had testified about a forensic analysis done by an employee. The defendant’s lawyer argued that the testimony should not have been admitted because the defense was not allowed to cross-examine the person who actually did the analysis.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which spells out procedures for criminal prosecution, contains a “confrontation clause.” That means defense attorneys may confront any government witness. In Bullcoming v. New Mexico, the Supreme Court decided that clause had been violated.
The same reasoning applied to Cameron’s case because, throughout the trial and during the appeal process, Cameron’s attorneys raised doubts about certain elements of the prosecution’s case, primarily the admission of records from Google and Yahoo! employees who found evidence of child pornography in a Yahoo! account belonging to Cameron’s wife and referred it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Those referrals were the basis of the investigation of Cameron by the Maine State Police’s computer crimes unit.
But Cameron’s attorneys never got a chance to cross-examine those employees because the employees were not in the courtroom.
Applying the Bullcoming precedent, the appeals court found that violated the confrontation clause.
Because the evidence provided by Google and Yahoo! was crucial to the prosecution, there was a strong possibility that Cameron’s conviction would be overturned, according to attorneys on both sides, so he was released on bail.
A prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Malone, said Wednesday that Cameron was always considered a flight risk because of the severity of the charges and the likelihood of a long prison sentence.
But once it became clear that there was a reasonable chance Cameron could win his appeal, the appeals court could not reasonably keep him detained, she said.
Even before Cameron was indicted on 16 counts related to child pornography in February 2009, the prosecution expressed concern that he might flee, since he was no longer living in Maine and had traveled overseas several times.
After his indictment, a U.S. magistrate judge denied the prosecution’s request that Cameron be held without bail and allowed his release on an unsecured bond of $75,000.
The unsecured bond meant that Cameron did not have to pay anything up front or provide collateral, but would have to pay $75,000 if he violated bail.
Once Cameron was convicted in August 2010, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock concluded that his potential to flee was elevated greatly. Woodcock rejected a request that Cameron be released until his sentencing in March 2011.
After Cameron was sentenced to 16 years in prison, his attorneys asked the judge multiple times to release him on bail pending his appeal. Each time, Woodcock denied the request.
Cameron’s attorney, Peter Horstmann, said his client had never posed a flight risk until recently. He traveled frequently before his indictment and after his home was searched, but always came back.
Malone agreed that Cameron dutifully followed all the conditions of release for several months. The only time he failed was when he fled.
Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: