A former professor of child psychology at Tarleton State University has been indicted on three counts of possessing child pornography.
On Wednesday, an Erath County grand jury found there was enough evidence to indict Dr. Thomas Dougherty, 42, on charges that he possessed illegal images of children on his university computer.
District Attorney John Terrill said the case is now in the hands of Assistant Attorney General Angela Goodwin. Goodwin presented the case to the grand jury and will come from Austin to prosecute the defendant in the event there is a trial.
Court documents filed with the Erath County District Clerk’s office provide graphic details of the photos said to be found in Dougherty’s possession. Files released following the indictment describe the images that visually depicted children under the age of 18 engaging in sexual conduct.
Among the visual materials were both male and female children photographed in “deviate sexual intercourse,” the court files state, including both homosexual and heterosexual acts involving children under the age of 18 and adults.
Other images Dougherty is said to have intentionally or knowingly possessed included children tied up and blindfolded while engaged in oral sex with adult males.
The court documents also state the accused had stored several movie files on his computer depicting sex acts, that when accessed would allow the images to be displayed on a computer screen.
“This defendant, a psychologist specializing in sexually abused children, is charged with possessing child pornography,” Attorney General Greg Abbott said. “The Cyber Crimes Unit will continue aggressively prosecuting those who prey on children online. We are grateful to the Tarleton State University Police Department - and to a very alert college student - for their assistance with this case.”
The TSU Police Department began investigating Dougherty in December 2007 after a student working near the professor’s office discovered a suspicious computer folder with his name on it. The student reported the discovery to campus police, who referred the case to the Attorney General’s Cyber Crimes Unit. The Attorney General’s investigators conducted a forensic analysis of Dougherty’s office computer, which allegedly uncovered several images and videos of child pornography.
When the investigation was opened last year, Dougherty was a tenured professor in the university’s psychology department. According to his resume, he specialized in learning disabilities, child and infant cognitive development, and child sexual abuse.
Under Texas law, possession of child pornography is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
Tarleton State University and its parent organization, the Texas A&M University system, are fully cooperating with the Cyber Crimes Unit’s investigation, Abbott’s office said.
Dougherty was first placed on administrative leave with pay, but was terminated from the university days later. The professor, who was hired in January 1998, has appealed the university’s decision to fire him.
During his career at the university, Dougherty received numerous honors including the Barry B. Thompson Award for Excellence in Teaching. In a 2000 evaluation, Dougherty was described as demonstrating “knowledge and enthusiasm for his area of expertise and for teaching,” and was described as being actively involved with his students.
Dougherty has hired local attorney Robert Glasgow to represent him. Attempts to reach Glasgow concerning the case were unsuccessful.
Dougherty turned himself in to authorities at the Erath County Jail at approximately 4 p.m. Thursday.