Crime

Christopher Lee found guilty on child pornography, obstruction charges

Chris Lee mugshot sent from the Columbia County Prison.
Chris Lee mugshot sent from the Columbia County Prison. Photo provided

Former Harris Township supervisor Christopher Lee was convicted Friday of charges he created, possessed and received child pornography and obstructed justice by tampering with evidence.

Lee’s verdict came after four days of testimony and argument in U.S. Middle District Court.

Lee, a descendant of the Boal family who gave the village of Boalsburg its name, is the former CEO of the Boal Mansion and Columbus Chapel. He was arrested in October 2014. He has remained in custody ever since, despite repeated requests for bail. The list of counts against him has been added to twice.

He is also charged with additional crimes, including enticing and transporting a minor for sexual activity. Those charges were separated from the pornography and tampering counts for purposes of trial.

No date has been set for trial on the additional charges.

Lee is disappointed by the verdict and will appeal it and rulings that went against him on pretrial motions, his attorney, Kyle Rude, said.

He understands the process and respects the jury’s decision, he said. Judge Matthew W. Brann set March 25 as the deadline to file post-trial motions.

A sentencing date will not be set until after a pre-sentence conference the judge scheduled for July 18. The maximum sentence on one of the counts is 30 years.

Lee, who lived on the second floor of the museum in Boalsburg, has been jailed without bail since his arrest Oct. 2, 2014, and Brann said that will not change.

The issue during the trial was not whether child pornography was found on computers and other devices seized in separate searches by State College police and FBI in June and October 2014, respectively.

Rude acknowledged examples shown the jurors of the 69,704 images discovered on the seized computers, thumb and hard drives were child pornography but argued there was no evidence Lee knowingly possessed, received or produced it.

The defense introduced evidence that others had access to the computers and thumb drives. “Don’t let disgusting pictures cloud your mind,” he told jurors in his closing argument.

Rude said after the verdict he believes the pornographic pictures shown by the prosecution had an effect on jurors.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith Taylor told jurors in her closing argument if they applied their common sense and life experience to what they heard in the courtroom they would conclude Lee was the only one responsible for the pornography.

Child pornography was found on at least five password-protected devices along with sexually explicit narratives, she said.

Lee took videos in 2005 and 2006 at the museum of boys then 14 and 15 years old, cropped them to focus on the genital area and included them in narratives, the prosecutor alleged.

There was no dispute Lee, a musician and former Harris Township supervisor, took the videos but Rude argued there was no evidence his client did anything more.

Included in the prosecution evidence was a list of websites with titles inferring child pornography. Taylor noted the list had been installed on a thumb drive found in Lee’s bedroom after the June search, and it had been modified the day before his arrest.

Rude had argued investigators looked only at Lee because the computers and other devices belonged to him or the museum. Assumptions are easy but in this case they are wrong, he told jurors.

He cited the number of young and adult tour guides, some from France, plus interns who stayed at the museum and had access to computers because they were provided the password.

The obstruction of justice charge was based on calls Lee made from the Columbia County Prison asking his cousin, John Thompson, to make arrangements to retrieve his cellphone from the FBI and have it wiped.

Taylor claimed that showed guilt, but Rude argued Lee was concerned about his list of contacts on the phone.

He noted after Thompson told him tampering with the phone would be construed as obstruction of justice, the requests stopped.

  Comments