Hartford Man Faces Child Porn Charge

David Starrett is led out of the courtroom after his arraignment at the Windsor District Court in White River Junction, Vt., on Oct. 11, 2013. 
Valley News - Sarah Priestap

David Starrett is led out of the courtroom after his arraignment at the Windsor District Court in White River Junction, Vt., on Oct. 11, 2013. Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

White River Junction — A 48-year-old man was released under strict conditions, including a 24-hour curfew, after he pleaded not guilty in Windsor Superior Court Friday to charges of possessing child pornography in his Hollow Drive home.

Meanwhile, state authorities are continuing to investigate what they say could be thousands of images stored on a computer in David Starrett’s bedroom.

Starrett, of White River Junction, was arrested Thursday afternoon and charged with five felony counts of possessing child pornography. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Starrett and his public defender, Elizabeth Kruska, declined to comment after the hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire asked that Starrett be held on $20,000 bail and that his conditions of release include staying 500 feet away from children.

But Kruska stated that Starrett’s apartment is located next to a public park and playground and that he could not immediately find another place to live. Moreover, she said, Starrett’s inability to make bail — Starrett lives in subsidized housing and is supported by disability checks — meant that he would be held indefinitely while the investigation continued.

Kruska said that Starrett, who grew up in the Upper Valley and has family in the area, has two prior minor convictions from the 1980s without any failures to appear before the court and therefore is not a flight risk.

In issuing her decision to release Starrett with conditions, Judge Karen R. Carroll said that she could only take into account Starrett’s flight risk.

“Weighing the fact that these are offenses that might carry significant jail time in the end, against what are really ties to the community and no showing up to this point that he would not abide by conditions ... the court doesn’t feel it appropriate to impose cash bail,” Carroll said. “This is one of those situations where the offense itself would lead the public to believe that cash bail should be imposed, but the court is required to look only at this point at his risk of flight ... whether it wants to or not.”

The conditions of Starrett’s release include an order to stay in Windsor County, except to travel to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center; that he must not leave his home at any time, except to travel to medical appointments, court hearings or to meet with his attorney; that he have no contact with minors under age 18; that he cannot access the Internet through computers, cell phones or other devices; and that he stay 300 feet away from children, except in his apartment under curfew.

“I would venture to guess given all the people (police) have spoken to about this case ... that if he left his apartment or had any contact that he wasn’t supposed to have with children, that the police would hear about it,” Carroll said.

Starrett, whose arrest report lists him at six feet tall and weighing nearly 300 pounds, stood in court shackled at the waist and wrists Friday, wearing a maroon T-shirt and gray sweatpants.

Kruska entered a not guilty plea on his behalf; he spoke quietly to her a few times during the arraignment as the judge and attorneys debated whether to set bail.

Kruska said Starrett travels to Dartmouth-Hitchcock frequently for “many medical issues” and “physical health diagnoses.”

Unemployed, Starrett has been receiving federal disability payments for 17 years and lives in a subsidized apartment with his son, who is in his 20s, Kruska said.

An affidavit from Detective Robert Snetsinger, a criminal investigator with the Attorney General’s Office and member of the Vermont Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, provided the following account:

While performing undercover operations on a file sharing network called the “eDonkey network” in late August, Snetsinger observed that an individual appeared to be “possessing and/or offering to distribute” several videos that showed children in sexual situations. In the videos, the investigator observed the children ranged in age from toddlers to about 12 years old.

Snetsinger subsequently obtained a subpoena from the cable operator providing Internet access to disclose the user associated with the IP address possessing the videos.

However, when Snetsinger and a Hartford police officer arrived at that address on Thursday, they learned that the cable subscriber had given her wireless Internet password to Starrett, who lives in a neighboring apartment.

Starrett declined to allow officers to search his computers, at which point the officers applied for a search warrant. Starrett and others in the apartment were asked to leave and did so without incident. Starrett first told officers that he was the only one who used the computer in his bedroom.

After receiving the search warrant, officers found four hard drives installed in his computer and an officer performing an examination of the drives “reported observing a large amount of suspected child pornography” on the drives.

Starrett later appeared at the Hartford Police Department, where he was arrested.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.