Former professor, Hanover resident guilty on child pornography charges

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 10-18-2022 10:50 PM

NORTH HAVERHILL — A former Keene State College professor and Hanover resident was convicted of possessing and distributing child pornography late last month, the judge presiding in the case saying he was not persuaded by the defendant’s claim that he was unaware the illicit images were stored and shared on his computer.

Roland Higgins, who was a professor of East Asian studies at Keene State for 36 years, was found guilty on 16 counts of possession of images of sexual images of minors and six counts of distribution by Judge Lawrence MacLeod in Grafton County Superior Court on Sept. 30. Each count of possession is punishable by 7½ years to 15 years in prison, and each count of distribution is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Higgins, 75, remains free on bail and is scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 6, 2023, pending a pre-sentencing investigation report prepared by the New Hampshire Department of Corrections to weigh factors in determining a length and conditions of sentence.

A two-day bench trial before Judge MacLeod was held on Aug. 30-31.

Higgins has filed a motion to set aside the verdict and for dismissal, arguing “that no reasonable finder of fact could find beyond a reasonable doubt as to all the elements of each offense, taking into account all the testimony at trial,” wrote George Ostler, Higgins’ attorney, in a motion filed with the court on Oct. 6

A cornerstone of Higgins’ defense was that under New Hampshire child anti-pornography law, it is not enough for the image to be found on the computer or distributed via the computer but for the defendant to be aware he possessed and distributed the image. Higgins acknowledged to investigators that he used the file sharing program BitTorrent to access illicit images but “denied knowing what the program sends him until he opens the file,” according to the police affidavit in support of his 2018 arrest and charges.

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But Judge MacLeod said that information Higgins gave to investigators about his viewing the illicit images on his computer showed that the defendant was aware of his actions and understood what BitTorrent is and how it works.

“I find Mr. Higgins, based upon his statements to the detective and trooper, to be computer-savvy, including the knowledge he had of BitTorrent programming on his computer and knew how to use it,” MacLeod said after reading excerpts from a U.S. District Court opinion dealing with a similar issue that he cited as basis for his decision shortly before pronouncing the verdict.

Ostler said via email that neither he nor his client had comment “at this point.”

Grafton County Attorney Marcie Hornick said following the verdict that the more than four years’ time — from when charges against Higgins were filed and the court trial — was due to coordinating expert and witness testimony as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everything is backed up because of COVID,” she said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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