Sunday, July 19, 2009

Roger Dale Roberts Charged with Making Child Porn

MUSKEGON COUNTY -- The choice was stark.

Either the child-pornography defendant was lying on the witness stand about alleged police misconduct -- after passing multiple private polygraph tests with the same story -- or two Norton Shores police officers were.

After many hours of hearings stretching over three separate days, Muskegon County Circuit Judge Timothy G. Hicks decided: The police testimony was "closer to the truth."

With that decision Wednesday afternoon, Hicks cleared the decks for a trial starting today for 50-year-old gym owner Roger Dale Roberts, charged with three felony counts of making child sexually abusive material. That's normally punishable by up to 20 years in prison, but in Roberts' case the top penalty is life because he has three prior felony convictions in 1994 for contractor fraud.

Roberts is accused of taking pictures and video of himself having sex with a 17-year-old girl he met through his business. Although 16 is Michigan's age of consent for sexual relations, it's a felony to make pornography of a person younger than 18.

Hicks rejected Roberts' motion to suppress virtually all the evidence against him, including a cell phone with video on it, a digital camera containing multiple still photos, and several glossy photos of the girl. Had the judge granted the motion, it would have made the case much harder to prosecute.

The defense motion was based on Roberts' allegations that last Sept. 19 police Sgt. Mike Kasher and Officer Jim Davis -- investigating the alleged victim's claim that Roberts had raped her -- entered his Seminole Road home without his permission; kept questioning him after he asked twice to call a lawyer; and seized his cell phone and camera without his permission. All would be violations of Roberts' constitutional rights and would bar the use of evidence police obtained as a result.

Roberts, a muscular man with two martial-arts black belts, testified that the officers showed up angry and aggressive, intimidating him into backing out of their way in his doorway as they barged in. He also said Davis snatched his cell phone from his hand and later picked up his camera from the kitchen in a search without permission.

Kasher and Davis testified that Roberts let them into his home, that he never mentioned wanting a lawyer, and that he himself first produced the cell phone to show them video of what appeared to be consensual sex, saying, "Does that look like rape?"

Three independent polygraph examiners, all with some law-enforcement background or training, rated Roberts as "truthful" in his allegations after separate tests administered last month. All three testified at the hearing on Roberts' motion.

Defense attorney A. Scott Grabel of Lansing argued that the polygraph results bolstered his client's credibility in a classic case of clashing stories.

But Senior Assistant Prosecutor Dale J. Roberts argued that the tests are unreliable, as demonstrated by the fact that they're not admissible at trial in Michigan or most other states.

The judge's conclusion about polygraph evidence: "It's not that valid. It's not that good."

Hicks also said he considered the officers' testimony on the stand to be more believable than that of Roberts or Roberts' 12-year-old son, who testified with the same story as his father's.

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