A Stephens County jury found Matthew Willoughby Hale guilty of 12 counts of possession of child pornography and six counts of child sexual abuse between two separate cases that were taken to trial in court this week.
For each count of child pornography possession, the jury fixed punishment at 20 years, which is the maximum allowed for the crime. For each count of child sexual abuse, the jury fixed punishment at life. In total, the jury returned a verdict of 510 years.
Defense attorneys Ron Williams and David Hammond represented Hale, 40, of Marlow in the two cases while Assistant District Attorney Cortnie Siess represented the State of Oklahoma.
The first case, pertaining to 12 counts of child pornography, stemmed from a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe dating back to March 29-30, 2017.
Justin Scott, Chief Investigator with the Sixth District Attorney’s Office testified to his involvement in the case and stated it came from information from the FBI Tulsa division. He said he received a limited series of documents, which would update him on the investigation, including the online operation and monitoring of searches during the probe that pinged to the computer inside Hale’s home.
Scott said he studied the FBI information to get further in the case, which would later in May 2017 result in law enforcement executing a search warrant at 516 W. Ash, Marlow.
Scott said he took a series of photographs during the search, which were used in the trial as state’s exhibits. These photographs included anything Scott may have then seen as important to furthering the case, such as a computer and external hard drive, which were seized, two cellular devices, which were also taken. He told the jury the photos of the home were important later on in the child sexual abuse case and not significant to the online investigation.
Scott also recalled first arriving to the residence and speaking with Susan Hale, who advised M. Hale was asleep. After waking him up, the two were separated and notified law enforcement were executing a search warrant for the potential distribution and possession of child pornography.
Scott also testified to showing M. Hale a screenshot of movie titles from the FBI that included child pornography terms and asked Hale if he had ever seen them. Hale responded by telling Scott he saw them two to three weeks before that and deleted them, but didn’t notify anyone about the material on the computer.
During his testimony, Scott also told the jury about how the computer and other electronics seized were sent to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI) for further study with programs that could recover deleted items.
During cross examination, Hammond asked Scott if he talked to Hale about neighbors using the computer and also if he knew Hale had tattoo clients in the home. Scott said he didn’t ask those questions, and agreed that Hale was cooperative and didn’t run or evade questions.
Scott also told Hammond he left an open line of communication with Hale if he could come up with other people in the home, though he didn’t provide specific dates, and also asked if he could provide proof of when he was working. Scott told Hammond he didn’t used the open line of communication.
The next testimony came from Denise Kramer, who works with OSBI in the criminal digital evidence unit. During her testimony, she outlined how she was able to use certain programs OSBI had to make a copy of Hale’s hard drive and recover deleted documents, locate searches and found other evidence.
Kramer testified to locating on a hard drive of Hale’s 36 pictures related to child pornography, 2 videos related to the same material, four carved photos — or photos that have been deleted and then recovered and 15 link files, which are shortcuts generated when a user interacts with an application or program. She said she also found searches with terminology relating to child pornography.
All testimony after Kramer’s occurred in closed court in an effort to protect the privacy of the victim while handling the nature of both cases with care. Graphic photo and video evidence were also shown to the jurors behind closed doors. The Banner previously reported the child sexual abuse charges came from further looking into the material discovered on the computer and law enforcement realizing a child in the home was in danger after finding an image of an adult male and minor in a lewd act and verified the tattoo was the same as Hale’s.
Hale chose to stay silent and not testify in court.
Marvin Dutton, who specializes in the computer field, was a witness called by defense when court reopened. He said it’s not really hard to clone hard drives and confirmed he had looked at reports from FBI and OSBI. He testified to the program, Aries, a peer-to-peer file sharing software, on Hale’s computer. Dutton said he didn’t examine Hale’s computer himself, but knew for certain anyone using Aries for file sharing could access Hale’s IP address and use it if they wanted to. He also testified that when it came to the pornographic material discovered, half of the files were still available on the internet and some of them in more than five different locations where it could still be downloaded.
Dutton said there was no real way to tell the difference between someone physically downloading material on a computer as opposed to remotely and testified it could be possible another person used Hale’s IP address to download the material, though no real motive for that happening could be established.
In cross examination, Dutton confirmed he had been paid by the defense to testify. Dutton, when shown a photograph which depicted Hale’s arm and tattoo and a minor child in a lewd act with background similar to photos obtained by Scott during his search warrant execution, said he could not say for certain if that specific image had been produced or made by Hale.
During closing arguments, the State asked jurors to seek the maximum punishment for the crimes after hearing heart-wrenching testimony from the victim about the abuse endured and recalled the victim said it happened more than 40 or 50 times. The defense told the jurors to consider the State hadn’t provided its proof of burden because they couldn’t put Hale behind the keyboard downloading the material for sure and also argued the victim couldn’t remember exact ages, years or times when the abuse occurred.
In rebuttal, Siess told the jurors the photo of the victim and Hale in a lewd act was found in the middle of all of the other material. She also asked them to take into consideration that a minor child, barely 12, had just taken the stand in front of 12 strangers and told them about the abuse endured throughout their entire lifetime. Siess asked the jury to remember that a child wouldn’t be able to differentiate dates, especially with how frequently the abuse occurred.
The trial took almost three days for the review of evidence, including obscene videos and photos and testimony from the victim, but the jury only deliberated for just a little over 30 minutes before returning to open court, where they delivered 18 verdicts, each reading “guilty” and recommending the maximum sentence for each count.
Hale will be formally sentenced by a judge at 9 a.m. Nov. 7, 2019.