Brett Dearman: PI offers perspective on Folley case
I am a private investigator in the Houston, Texas, area. I am also a former resident of Craig and Meeker. My area of expertise is in digital forensics, and I have been a licensed private investigator since 2011. I started my career in digital forensics in 2001 as the in-house forensic investigator for a large energy company and have participated in nearly 700 digital forensic examinations, which included desktop and laptop computers, as well as many mobile devices.
My reason for writing is in response to the recent editorial regarding the trial of Justin Dean Folley. I don’t know much about the case beyond what was mentioned in the editorial, but I felt the need to write about a case I worked on in 2004 and, in doing so, I hope to give some insight to what may seem a negative outcome of this matter.
I was approached by a colleague who asked if I would be willing to help his wife’s sister (who I’ll refer to as my client) by performing a forensic examination on their family computer for any signs of infidelity by her estranged husband. I agreed to do a “by the numbers” exam on the computer, which was delivered to my lab by my colleague’s wife (my client’s sister). What I found was not what I expected. Within the first hour of the examination, I discovered a plethora of pornographic images, many of which appeared to be children. By the end of the exam, I had cataloged more than 54,000 pornographic images. This was the hardest case I had ever worked. Some of the images were absolutely nauseating … so much so that I temporary left the field of digital forensics.
By law, I was required to report my findings to the FBI. As it turned out, the FBI decided the individual in question did not appear to be “trafficking” in child pornography, but was rather a “collector.” Because of this, I was instructed to turn the matter over to the local law enforcement agency. I presented the evidence to the police department for the city in which my client lived, which, in turn, turned the evidence over to the city’s prosecuting attorney, who decided to pursue charges against my client’s soon-to-be ex-husband. He was subsequently arrested and charged with multiple counts of possession of child pornography.
The prosecutor ended up dropping the charges only days before the trial. Not only was I shocked, but also incredibly frustrated. The charges were dropped because of a technicality involving chain-of-custody of the computer I examined, and the prosecutor determined the integrity of the evidence was indefensible.
I spent a number of years lamenting the outcome of this case, but a fellow private investigator helped me put into perspective. No … the case did not go as we hoped it would, but there was a measure of good that came from the effort. Though the man in question was not convicted, he was inextricably thrust under the spotlight. I found out later that, when he left his wife, he got an apartment across the street from a local junior high school. I was also informed he had lost his job as a result of the arrest. He may not have been found guilty by a jury of his peers, but his peers were all now aware of the potential of guilt. He was now on the radar of local law enforcement and would be watched with scrutiny going forward.
I hope my story helps bring a little perspective to those close to the Folley case. He may not have been convicted of the crimes he was charged with, but he is clearly on the radar screen of law enforcement, and if he tries anything like this again, someone will take notice, and if he does, hopefully, it will be acted upon before there is another victim.
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