Saul Hansen

Hansen

ELKTON — A prosecutor dismissed a child pornography case against a Colora man on Jan. 23 in the middle of a jury trial, after the defense asserted that the state made a pre-trial procedural error that lessened the stature of a key witness — the lead investigator.

The prosecutor, Assistant State’s Attorney Shauna Lee, tendered her resignation directly after dropping the state’s criminal case against 36-year-old Saul Hansen, a registered sex offender who was on probation in a 2017 child pornography case when new child pornography charges were filed against him in April, setting the stage for last week’s trial.

Cecil County State’s Attorney James Dellmyer confirmed that Lee resigned from her job. But the reason or reasons for Lee’s decision to resign — if even cited — would be considered a personnel matter and, therefore, would be private.

Lee had specialized in the prosecution of special victims cases since September 2018, when then-State’s Attorney Amanda Bessicks hired her for that position. Lee prosecuted cases involving rape and other sexual assaults, in addition to various types of child abuse and child neglect cases.

Hansen’s defense lawyer, C. Evan Rollins, made his objection on Jan. 23 during a motions hearing that arose on the second day of trial, and Retired Cecil County Circuit Court Judge V. Michael Whelan upheld it, after hearing arguments from both sides.

Rollins had objected to Lee’s plan to call Maryland State Police Det. Frank Donald as an expert witness.

Donald, who is assigned to the agency’s Computer Crimes Against Children (CCAC) Task Force, served as the main investigator in the case and, according to court records and Lee’s opening statement to jurors, Donald linked Hansen to images of child pornography that were found on the defendant’s cell phone.

Rollins argued that, while prosecutors identified Donald as an “expert witness” in pre-trial discovery paperwork that the Cecil County State’s Attorney’s Office had provided the defense, they did not fully disclose the MSP investigator’s credentials, his field of expertise and what his testimony would address.

That lack of information concerning Donald, according to Rollins, hampered the defense in finding its own expert witness to challenge Donald’s testimony.

Moments after Whelan agreed with Rollins’ assertion that Donald could not testify as an expert witness — only as a fact witness — Lee dismissed all 10 charges against Hansen, five counts each of distribution of child pornography and possession of child pornography.

No double jeopardy

The state cannot recharge Hansen because it would be considered “double jeopardy,” meaning trying the same defendant twice for the same charges, which is unconstitutional. When the jurors took their oath on Wed., Jan. 22, the trial for Hansen officially had started and, therefore, the dismissal of all the charges against him occurred during that trial.

During his opening statement on Jan. 22, Rollins told jurors that he and Lee had stipulated that the images found on the cell phone in question were, indeed, child pornography. That agreement eliminated the need for jurors to view the images and for an expert witness to explain how those images meet the definition of child pornography.

“We are going to spare you from having to see those images .... It’s an image that can’t be unseen. We don’t want to put you through that,” Rollins told jurors.

Rollins told jurors that MSP investigators confiscated several of Hansen’s electronic devices while raiding his Barnes Corner Road residence in April, after a five-month-long investigation, and that they found no child pornography on any of them.

The defense lawyer emphasized that the only child pornography images found by investigators were on a Google app on Hansen’s cell phone, which Hansen had loaned to his ex-wife in October 2018 to help with her college studies.

In early November 2018, a couple of days after Hansen had loaned that cell phone, Hansen’s ex-wife and her boyfriend took the cell phone in question to the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office, showed the child pornography images and reported Hansen — launching an investigation, according to trial testimony and information provided by the state and the defense.

“The question isn’t, is it child pornography? This question is, is it Mr. Hansen’s?” Rollins told jurors in his opening statement.

The arrest

Investigators arrested Hansen without incident at about 10 a.m. on April 5 at his residence in the 400 block of Barnes Corner Road during the raid, police reported shortly after the court-approved search warrant had been executed.

MSP’s ICAC Task Force had started its investigation in November 2018, after receiving information that Hansen was in possession of child pornography, police said. That investigation “led to Hansen’s residence” and then to the April raid, in which searchers seized electronic devices that were then scheduled for analysis by MSP’s Digital Forensics Laboratory,” police added.

At the time of his April arrest, Hansen was in the midst of serving five years of supervised probation, which he received in July 2017, along with a six-month jail term, after pleading guilty to two counts of possession of child pornography, according to police and Cecil County Circuit Court records.

Those convictions stem from an MSP raid conducted Feb. 23, 2016, at Hansen’s then-residence in the unit block of Molitor Road near Elkton, prosecutors said. Investigators confiscated “various digital media storage devices,” which were analyzed at MSP’s Digital Forensics Lab, and that led to investigators filing several child pornography charges against Hansen, prosecutors added.

The 2017 sentencing

On July 27, 2017, two months after Hansen had pleaded guilty to two counts of possession of child pornography, Retired Visiting Kent County Circuit Court Judge J. Frederick Price imposed a four-year sentence on Hansen for one of his convictions and then suspended three and a half years of it. For the second possession of child pornography conviction, the judge imposed a consecutive four-year sentence, which he suspended.

Price ordered Hansen to register as a convicted sex offender for the next 15 years, according to court records and Cecil Whig archives. The Sex Offender Registry allows police and the public to keep tabs on convicted sex offenders.

In addition, the judge ordered Hansen to undergo counseling and restricted his use of computers, as conditions of his five years of supervised probation, which Hansen started serving after completing his six-month term in the Cecil County Detention Center, court records show.

The sentence imposed by Price fell short of a recommendation made by prosecutors, who had sought two years of active incarceration for Hansen. Specifically, the state had asked for 10 years in sentences, with eight years suspended.

Reporting that Hansen had an otherwise unblemished criminal record at that time, the defense recommended probation and no jail time.

After Hansen’s arrest in April, police officials explained that MSP’s Computer Crimes Unit coordinates the Maryland Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.

“This is a combined law enforcement effort involving police departments across Maryland that is made possible in part due to grant funds provided by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) and by a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice,” an MSP spokesman said, adding, “Task force investigators focus on identifying those involved in child pornography via the Internet and other related crimes that victimize children.”

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