By Linh Nguyen and Maxwell C. Myrhum
In admitting the possession of many explicit photos and a video of minors to his therapist and parole officer, a man has been found guilty of that possession by the court.
Franklin James Roberts was found guilty of felony possession of obscene materials of individuals under 18 years old by Judge David Rosenberg on Tuesday. This decision came after Roberts admitted the crime to his therapist and parole officer during a mental health episode.
The court trial began with opening statements given by the prosecution, Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Palumbo. Palumbo laid out a general timeline starting with Roberts’ original crime on Aug. 21, 2018, in which he was caught with over 600 pictures of minors shown in an obscene manner.
The deputy DA then elaborated that on Oct. 10, 2019, the defendant suffered from a mental health episode which led to the discovery of his relapse, and his arrest days later due to crimes of the same nature.
Following the conclusion of the prosecution’s statements, Lisa Lance for the defense delivered her opening argument. Lance argued with the court that Roberts in no way hindered the investigation or efforts put into his arrests, and was cooperative and honest with those involved. Lance stressed that the defendant’s lack of hindrance and honesty must be taken into consideration for Roberts to avoid jail time.
Following the opening arguments, Angel Ortiz was the first witness called by the prosecution to testify before the court.
Angel Ortiz is a therapist who works with the “Sharper Future” program that provides rehabilitation and therapy to parolees convicted of sex crimes. Ortiz was assigned Roberts for therapy as a part of his parole, and worked with the defendant until his arrest in 2019.
The witness originally was uncertain to the extent of testimony he was able to provide, given the restriction of patient-therapist confidentiality, but complied in sharing further information after being ordered by Judge Rosenberg to do so.
Ortiz then explained to the court that on Oct. 10, 2019, Roberts began to display signs of depression and allegedly was asking for medical attention. This prompted Ortiz to contact Roberts’ parole officer for assistance, leading to Roberts being checked into Woodland Memorial Hospital and allegedly showing little to no emotion while leaving therapy.
This contact between the defendant’s therapist and parole officer is allowed because Roberts waived his right to have complete confidentiality between the two.
Roberts, on the 10th and 17th of October, pressed to Ortiz that he had begun to relapse in his consumption of child pornography, and this information was relayed to Roberts’ parole officer. This confession then prompted Roberts’ parole officer to arrest him for the continued consumption of pornography of this manner.
Roberts’ assigned parole agent, Troy Libonati, also testified to the series of events that occurred in October of 2019. Libonati had been assigned to manage Roberts since Roberts was released on parole in May of 2019. Libonati testified that he was made aware that the defendant waived his psychotherapist privilege, meaning that whatever Roberts told his therapist could be reported to his parole officer (otherwise confidential).
On Oct. 10, 2019, Libonati was contacted by Ortiz after Roberts told Ortiz he needed help. Libonati transported Roberts to the Woodland Memorial Hospital, where Roberts voluntarily committed himself for five days. Five days later, on Oct. 14, 2019, Roberts was released from the hospital. Libonati took him back to Cache Creek Lodge, a residential recovery facility where Roberts had been staying for a few weeks.
Roberts left a briefcase at the front of the patrol vehicle when he entered the hospital. Libonati moved and secured the briefcase in the trunk of his patrol vehicle and later moved and secured the briefcase in his office. Libonati testified that he did not open the briefcase at any time while the defendant was at the hospital.
On Oct. 17, 2019, Ortiz contacted Libonati again regarding the concerning confession that Roberts told him. Libonati arrested Roberts for violating his parole.
Roberts addressed a letter to Libonati after his arrest on Nov. 8, 2019. The letter was not read aloud to the court; Judge Rosenberg read the letter to himself in considering the evidence.
After Roberts was booked into the county jail, Libonati looked inside the briefcase and found a white Samsung tablet. Libonati turned on the device and immediately put it on airplane mode. He also briefly searched the device and found child pornography. Libonati sent the tablet to the high tech unit lab.
Manjot Mahil from the High Tech Lab testified as the person who handled Roberts’ device. Mahil used the Cellebrite program to extract data from his tablet.
In extracting data from the device, Mahil identified child pornography and child erotica that had been downloaded. Although the exact ages of the individuals in these images and videos were unknown, Mahil relied on the Tanner Scale (which approximates age based on physiological development) to determine that these individuals were under the age of 18.
Furthermore, Mahil found that the tablet was not used to produce any sexually lewd material depicting a minor and concluded that the sexually lewd material found on the tablet was not caused by a virus.
The prosecution, in her closing arguments, argued that there is no question as to whether the defendant is guilty or not. This is because Roberts is known to consume material of underaged individuals, as he has done so before, and the tablet displays enough evidence of this pornographic material to quash any doubts.
The defense, in her closing, agreed with the prosecution that the defendant is guilty, but attempted to make the argument that because the confession, if there was one, violated the patient-therapist agreement, Roberts should not face more jail time.
The defense’s argument prompted Judge Rosenberg to inquire whether rapists and murderers should be absolved of their crimes if the crimes were confessed to a therapist, to which the defense argued that the crimes would be to uphold patient-therapist confidentiality.
The prosecution responded to these closing remarks by stating the defense provided a rather inappropriate argument that is not applicable to the trial, as this was not the time for sympathy of such a glaring crime. The trial is meant to find the defendant guilty, and the defense admitted this in her closing remarks.
Judge Rosenberg then announced that the court found the defendant, Franklin Roberts, guilty beyond any reasonable doubt of possessing obscene material of individuals under 18 years old. Judge Rosenberg stressed that all parts of the evidence had been met and were convincing, and elaborated to the court that, unlike a relapse from drugs, this sort of “relapse” is a descent into a more serious matter affecting exploited minors across the nation.
The sentencing of Franklin Roberts has been set for Apr. 27, 2019, at 1:30 p.m.
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