Pornographer argues to overturn conviction

Man insists juror biased by professional tie to U.S. prosecutor

March 28, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,

A child pornographer argued Friday that his conviction should be overturned because he says a juror did not disclose a professional relationship with a federal prosecutor and then sent the man a fawning e-mail mentioning the case during the November trial.

"On jury duty this week up in Baltimore. Federal case - child porn etc. .. loving life (sarcasm). You guys do not get near the credit you deserve for what you do!..." certified public accountant - and juror No. 1 - Greg Schuessler wrote to Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Leotta, who is not associated with the pornography case, before going on to talk about an invoice mix up.

Schuessler's staff prepares taxes for a nonprofit Leotta works with. He said he did not know that Leotta was a federal attorney when he sent the e-mail, and Leotta said he did not know Schuessler was serving on a jury. The attorney notified the "professional responsibility officer" within the U.S. Attorney's Office of the e-mail shortly after receiving it Nov. 17.

That same day, defendant Christopher Jude Blauvelt, 39, was found guilty of sexually exploiting a minor, producing child porn and distributing cocaine to teenagers. Evidence presented at the five-day trial showed he videotaped intercourse with a 14-year-old girl in January 2007 and gave her and a boy cocaine starting in late 2006.

In a motion for a new trial filed in U.S. District Court, an attorney for Blauvelt claims Schuessler's "deferential attitude" shows that the accountant had to vote guilty or risk his contract with Leotta.

But Schuessler said during Friday's hearing that he was "blown away" by how a courtroom works, and he expressed his sincere appreciation for legal personnel. He said that his only prior experience with the legal system was watching television shows like Boston Legal.

"This whole process is fascinating to me, from start to finish," he said, adding that he is used to spending his days with attorneys who earn $400 to $500 per hour for what seems like pushing paper.

He also said the e-mail was flattery heavy because he was embarrassed about a business mistake he had made and didn't want Leotta to think he was "too much of a knucklehead."

Maryland's U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said there is no basis to overturn the conviction. U.S. District Court Judge William D. Quarles gave Blauvelt's attorney two weeks to submit any further arguments on the issue.

Blauvelt faces a maximum of 30 years in prison, but his sentencing has repeatedly been postponed.

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