Chester man challenges police computer search in sex abuse case
BRENTWOOD - A Chester man charged with an alleged series of sexual assaults against a young girl in the 1990s is asking a judge to reconsider whether police had the right to search his computer, which ultimately led to his indictment in four separate cases.
Gary Britton, 60, is headed to trial next week in Rockingham County Superior Court on two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and two counts of felonious sexual assault for allegedly abusing a girl between 1991 and 1995. The alleged assaults began when the girl was under age 10, prosecutors said.
Michael Verronneau, a digital forensic expert, testified for the defense on Monday, suggesting that Britton's landlord had to go searching for the images of child pornography on his home computer rather than seeing it in plain sight.
The landlord testified at a previous hearing that he simply turned on the computer and saw the images. Chester police used that information to obtain a search warrant. Judge N. William Delker had already ruled in March that the police search of Britton's apartment and home computer was legal, but he allowed defense lawyers to add testimony to their bid to have evidence in the case thrown out.
Delker is now reconsidering his decision. Assistant County Attorney Brad Bolton argued that Britton's computer could have been only partially shut down, or in sleep mode, and that the images could have remained on the screen.
"So, it's possible for someone to push a button and for that screen to come up," Bolton said, showing exhibits of the images recorded by police. "It's possible," Verronneau said.
Britton was being evicted by his landlords on Sept. 22, 2011, when Chester police were preparing to arrest him for failing to register as a sex offender.
Once the landlords allegedly found child pornography on Britton's computer they called police. That set off a wider investigation by Chester police that resulted in Britton being indicted on the sex assault case, failing to register as a sex offender, being a felon in possession of a firearm, possessing child pornography.
Britton, who was convicted of aggravated felonious sexual assault in 1983, is barred from owning a firearm because he is a felon.
He is expected to face separate trials on charges of possession of child sexual abuse images and being a felon in possession of a weapon.
He pleaded guilty for failing to register as a sex offender and served 12 months in jail.