A former Tarleton State University psychology professor entered the 266th Judicial District Court Monday to face felony charges for allegedly possessing child pornography on his office computer and university-issued laptop.
Thomas Michael Dougherty, 44, was first indicted by an Erath County grand jury
in March 2008 on three counts of possessing child pornography, a third degree felony.
Then in July 2009, a separate indictment was issued for multiple counts of the same offense.
Since his indictment and subsequent arrest, he has moved out of the county.
Dougherty entered the halls of justice with his wife Amy, a former Erath County juvenile probation officer, and two teenage sons at his side. In the courtroom, the former professor had a slew of supporters behind him, who were quickly sworn in as potential witnesses and asked to leave the proceeding as the witness rules were invoked.
As the trial got under way, Judge Donald Jones explained the defendant waived his right to a jury trial. Jones said he would assess the evidence, determine guilt or innocence and also assess punishment if a guilty verdict was issued.
In her opening statement, Special Prosecutor Von Bunn, from the Office of the Attorney General, said the case began on Dec. 7, 2007 when graduate student Kimberley Morris located a suspicious folder on the university’s server.
The graduate student, now an adjunct professor at Tarleton, later testified the folder was named “Dougherty’s Lime Wire Tunes.” The folder, which was a shared media folder, peaked the student’s curiosity since she had logged on for the purpose of downloading music to her iPod. When she opened the folder, she found a list of video files, with “long, graphic, descriptive titles that appeared to refer to child pornography.”
Lime Wire is a media sharing application that allows users to exchange files such as music, video and documents.
Morris testified that she did not open the files and instead formed a plan for reporting the potential offense to university officials.
Morris, a math student, said she did not personally know Dougherty, and it took a while for it to register that the name belonged to a university professor.
The files were reported to university officials the following morning who called on campus police and employees of the Information Technology (IT) Services for help.
IT specialist James Wiley accessed and opened the files and tracked their origin to Dougherty’s office computer. The files were later viewed by Tarleton Police Chief Justin Williams, Lt. Randy Dolloff and Jerry Graham, vice president for finance and administration.
On the stand, Graham called the files depicted “grossly obscene sexual activities” against children.
He said the officials formulated a plan of action, which included protecting the network, making sure no students or staff members could access the files and safeguarding the equipment for further investigation. He said the computer was immediately replaced to “keep attention away from the situation.”
The computer was later sent to the attorney general’s office for further investigation.
Once the evidence was collected, Dougherty was called to meet with Williams and Dolloff and offered a prepared statement, which was presented in court.
In speaking with the officers, Dougherty admitted he had accessed Lime Wire and downloaded the images out of curiosity. He said his son, who used the application to download music files, introduced him to the program.
While the professor was searching for music, he came across pornographic images. He said weeks before the discovery by the graduate student, he began looking for pornography. He realized the girls in the videos were “very young” and said some of them appeared to be 10 or 11 years old. He then began downloading images.
“If you look and see, it was just downloaded yesterday,” Dougherty said in his statement.
In his admission, he said he took full responsibility, apologized for the inappropriate conduct and admitted it was a “stupid mistake.”
Despite his client’s admission, defense attorney Shay Isham argued the professor was known to leave his door open and computer logged on, meaning that anyone could have downloaded the explicit files.
The state called on a former university employee, Mary Kay Sherman, who said it was not until May 2008 that a laptop, which was issued to Dougherty, was located and turned over to officials.
Sherman said Dougherty had returned it months earlier, in the fall of 2007, after she had asked about its whereabouts. Upon its return, she shoved it into a desk drawer, locked it up for safe keeping and forgot about it.
“He told me it was an old computer, he didn’t really use it and probably didn’t work,” Sherman said.
She said when she had asked about the laptop on a previous occasion, Dougherty told her his “kids had got into some bad Web sites” and he would need to “clean it up.”
Isham argued that during the months the computer was unaccounted for, anyone could have downloaded the illegal files. He also said since it could be used without password verification, anyone could have gained access.
Testimony will continue today with as the state calls on Sgt. Les St. James with the computer forensics division of the attorney general’s office to detail his findings and the defense is expected to call its first witness.