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Steele v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

February 1, 2019



          BRIEF AND ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLANT: Timothy Denison Louisville, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Andy Beshear Attorney General of Kentucky Mark D. Barry Assistant Attorney General Frankfort, Kentucky ORAL ARGUMENT FOR APPELLEE: Mark D. Barry Assistant Attorney General Frankfort, Kentucky



          LAMBERT, JUDGE.

         Cameron Mason Steele has appealed from the portion of the Jefferson Circuit Court's judgment convicting him of possession of materials portraying a minor in a sexual performance, for which he received a five-year sentence and requires him to register as a sex offender for twenty years. After considering the parties' briefs, oral arguments, and Steele's attorney's response to the Court's inquiry at oral argument, we find no abuse of discretion in the circuit court's rulings. Hence, we affirm.

         In May 2013, the Jefferson County grand jury indicted Steele on three charges; namely, possession of a matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor pursuant to Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) 531.335, tampering with physical evidence pursuant to KRS 524.100, and voyeurism pursuant to KRS 531.090. The indictment charged that on December 30, 2012, Steele knowingly had in his possession or control matter that visually depicted an actual sexual performance by a minor and had knowledge of the content of this matter. The voyeurism charge was described to have taken place between late December 2011 and late December 2012. The Uniform Citation completed upon Steele's arrest on March 7, 2013, states:

On 12/30/12 the above subject was confronted by his wife after she found naked pictures of her daughter on his iPad. Above subject admitted to hiding a web cam in her daughter's bedroom. The above subject then started to delete the pictures off the iPad and he destroyed the web cam. During the course of the investigation detective located child pornography that above subject was in possession of. Child pornography was several pictures that were on 3½" floppy discs.

         Steele retained counsel and entered a not guilty plea.

         A trial by jury commenced on May 27, 2014. The Commonwealth presented testimony from Steele's wife and her adult children (Steele's stepchildren).[1] The testimony established that the wife opened Steele's iPad with his password looking for a photo, and in the process, she found nude photos of her daughter and of her daughter engaging in sexual acts with her boyfriend. The wife confronted Steele, who admitted to her that he had placed a webcam in the vent in the room the daughter used when she stayed at their apartment. The photos from the webcam uploaded directly to Steele's computer. Steele saved screen shots from the webcam and loaded them onto his iPad. In an effort to save his marriage, Steele claimed he destroyed the webcam and placed it in a bag of used kitty litter. He also deleted photos from his electronic devices. The wife called her son and daughter, who came to the apartment, and she told them what she had found. The wife made Steele leave the apartment, and the police were called.

         Officer Nathan Vrab, a patrol officer with the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD), responded to the call. He talked to the parties and performed a five- or ten-minute search of the basement, where Steele's computer equipment and many of his possessions were located. This room was considered his "man cave." Officer Vrab collected items around Steele's desk that he thought would be important, including a computer and some flash or zip drives. He also collected the iPad from Steele. Steele was not arrested at that time, and no child pornography was found on any of the items Officer Vrab took from the residence. Detective Chris Horn with LMPD was assigned to investigate the case.

         In the days and weeks that followed, the wife began cleaning up the cluttered basement where many of Steele's possessions remained. During one of her cleaning sessions, the wife found a purple box that had fallen behind a desk. This box contained several floppy disks. She informed her son, and they used a device belonging to her mother to determine what was on the disks. Based on the file names, they turned the disks over to Detective Horn, who determined that seven disks held child pornography and four held photos of nude adult celebrities. Detective Horn had also determined that the iPad contained photos of nude celebrities, non-celebrity nude photos, clothed women, and nature. Detective Horn never visited the apartment, and he took the wife at her word as to where the floppy disks were found. Steele did not present any witnesses, but the Commonwealth played his recorded police statement without objection, in which he characterized the voyeurism as a mistake and denied possessing any child pornography.

         At the conclusion of the testimony, Steele moved for directed verdicts on the tampering and possession charges, which were both denied. He admitted to the voyeurism charge throughout the trial. The jury returned guilty verdicts on the possession and voyeurism charges, but it returned a not guilty verdict on the tampering charge. The jury fixed his sentence at five years on the possession conviction and at twelve months and a $500.00 fine for the voyeurism conviction. The court entered an order setting forth the jury's verdict and recommended sentence on June 3, 2014, and scheduled a sentencing hearing for the following month.

         In early June 2014, Steele filed a motion pursuant to Kentucky Rules of Criminal Procedure (RCr) 10.06 and 10.24 for the court to set aside the jury verdict or direct a verdict of acquittal on the possession conviction. He argued that the Commonwealth failed to meet its burden of proving that he had knowledge of the subject matter or had actual possession of the child pornography. Steel also argued that the verdict was based upon passion and prejudice due to his voyeurism conviction rather than on the evidence. Steele filed another motion a few days later for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial pursuant to RCr 10.02 and 10.24. The basis for this motion was again the court's denial of his motion for a directed verdict of acquittal on the possession charge due to lack of evidence of his actual and knowing possession of the material.

         In addition, Steele moved the circuit judge to recuse, stating in his affidavit that he had not received a fair trial because the judge ruled in the Commonwealth's favor on almost every motion, denied his motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict despite the introduction of improper evidence, found that he was a danger to the community and a flight risk at the post-conviction bond hearing even though he had never missed a court date and was only convicted of a Class D felony, and caused his release on bond to be delayed. Steele also questioned her qualifications for her position as a judge. Steele did not believe he would receive a fair sentence and filed a complaint with the Judicial Conduct Commission. The circuit court denied the motion to recuse, stating the court did not have any personal ...

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