Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

December 10, 2013

Child pornography case headed to trial

By Michael R. Moser

CROSSVILLE — A man who admitted to an investigator that he possessed on his computer images depicting children in settings of a sexual nature — described by an investigator as child pornography — appears headed for a jury trial.

Neal Alan Blair, 37, of Martin Burgess Rd., had his effort to suppress his voluntary statement to an investigator in the case rejected. The challenge of the search warrant became a non-issue when Deputy District Attorney Gary McKenzie told Judge David Patterson the state obtained no evidence from the search of a search engine provider.

Blair was indicted by the Cumberland County Grand Jury in March on aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and sexual exploitation of a minor — more than 100 images.

Only witness for the state during the hour-long hearing was Cookeville Police Department Det. Bobby Anderson who works with the Internet Crimes Against Children unit in the Upper Cumberland area under the supervision of the Knoxville Police Department.

Anderson testified that he received an anonymous tip claiming that a certain email address had exchanged child pornography using a Yahoo email account. A search warrant was obtained and a "snap shot" revealed the IP address from where the email had been sent.

That led to the home of Blair's mother where Blair also lives. Armed with a search warrant, Anderson went to the residence to seize a laptop computer. The computer surrendered did not reveal any child pornography on it. Blair was not home, but upon return he traveled to the Cookeville Police Department on May 3, 2011, and surrendered another laptop computer.

Anderson testified that Blair was cooperative and, after being given a Miranda warning advising him of his rights, the detective said Blair gave him a statement admitting to possessing and distributing images of child pornography.

Defense attorney Jeff Vires questioned the investigator as to who made the complaint, and asked whether Blair appeared sleep deprived when giving his statement. At one point, Blair asked if he was headed to jail. The detective said he told the suspect, "You are not going to jail today."

He added that the interview was voluntary and informal and that Blair was free to leave at any point during the visit.

Blair took the stand and testified that he had worked a full shift at his place of employment, working the night shift, and then attended classes for more than five hours. He then traveled to the Cookeville Police Department, all without sleep.

He said he felt pressure and was scared he would end up in jail.

Patterson ruled there was nothing to suppress relating to the Yahoo search warrant, because nothing was seized and because the state had already told the court there would be no evidence as a result of the search.

McKenzie said the state's position was that evidence gleaned from the computer and the confession "has nothing to do with the Yahoo search warrant" and should be allowed as evidence in trial.

Patterson agreed and, after issuing his ruling, he set Blair's trial for March 26.