After just over two hours of deliberation Tuesday, Dec. 14, a Sagadahoc County jury acquitted a former Mount View Junior High School teacher on two charges of possession of sexually explicit materials depicting children.

Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker said Michael Douglas, 43, of Augusta, was found not guilty on the two charges of possession of child pornography that stemmed from a Maine Sate Police search of his home computer in April 2009.

The search was conducted after police learned images depicting children engaged in sexual acts had been located on Douglas’ school-issued laptop in March 2009. Douglas resigned from his position with Maine School Administrative District 3 one day after Maine State Police detectives interviewed him as part of their investigation.

At trial, Douglas also faced two additional charges of possession of child pornography based on the images that police reportedly found on the school laptop, but Walker said that pair of charges was dismissed shortly after the state presented its case. Douglas’ trial began Monday, Dec. 13, with Justice Jeffrey Hjelm presiding.

Walker said while he was “shocked” at the jury’s not-guilty verdict on the two charges Douglas faced in connection with images located on his home computer, he was not surprised when the two charges concerning images police found on the school laptop were dropped so quickly.

Walker said the images on the school laptop were stored in what is known as the cache, an unallocated space that saves a history of all residual images and documents that have ever been viewed through that particular computer.

Defense attorney Walter McKee said the reason that the charges concerning the school laptop were dismissed was that there was no way of knowing where or when Douglas actually viewed the images, and there was no way to prove whether Douglas viewed the images at home or while at school.

“People don’t know that,” said McKee.

Walker said he was surprised that the jury returned a not-guilty decision on the two remaining charges Douglas faced, largely because Douglas had previously told police he had occasionally viewed child pornography over the course of years.

“We felt we had a very strong case against [Douglas] on the charges that came out of Kennebec County,” said Walker. “That’s mainly because the defendant confessed.”

Walker said this case was unusual because, unlike other cases involving child pornography that Walker has seen in the past, Douglas had not saved images on a DVD, CD or a thumb drive, nor was there evidence that he either printed them or shared them through any of the commonly used file-sharing Web sites like LimeWire.

“Those materials are usually saved in some type of allocated space, and there was none of that in this case,” Walker said. “We had no other proof besides the fact that he viewed it on the Internet and then turned [the computer] off. I’ve never had a case like that.”

McKee said the very component that made the case against Douglas so different from other child pornography cases is what led to his client’s acquittal on the two possession charges regarding his home computer.

“This was a highly unique case that asked the question, ‘Is looking at illegal images on Web sites ‘possessing’ them if they were never saved, downloaded or purchased?’” said McKee. “We said, no way. The jury agreed.”

Both Walker and McKee praised the jury for its work on such a tough case, especially since at one point in the trial jurors were asked to view two of the images located on Douglas’ computer as part of the state’s evidence.

McKee credited jurors for their efforts to make a decision based on the law, and not on their personal feelings about child pornography as a parent or grandparent.

“A lot of times juries are criticized about not following the law, and in this case I think they did just that,” said McKee.

McKee admitted that Douglas had illegally viewed child pornography while at his own residence, but under the state law regarding illegal possession of pornography, a person must have “authority, dominion or control” over the materials involved.

McKee said there was no evidence that Douglas’ activities fit the parameters of the law as it pertains to possession of the materials, and likened the case against Douglas to the recent release of stolen documents by WikiLeaks. McKee said that although the WikiLeaks documents are considered illegal, people are not necessarily guilty of possessing the documents if they simply read them online.

“When you’re online, you don’t own the Web site, and you don’t control the content,” said McKee. “That’s very different than having it in your hands.”

Walker also complimented jurors for their work on a difficult case. He added, however, that changes in the ways people can access child pornography these days need to be addressed in the state law.

“It’s cause for us to take another hard look at the statute and the definition of possession. The way the law reads now, you have to have authority, dominion or control of a tangible object. That just doesn’t fit well with the new age of electronic media,” Walker said.

McKee agreed that this case could trigger a new look at the current laws regarding possession of sexually explicit materials, but noted there were concerns on the other side of the debate as well.

“There are certainly strong concerns on the other side of that about criminalizing what we view for information on the Internet,” McKee said.

Overall, McKee said Douglas is looking forward to moving on with his life without these charges “hanging over his head.”

“This has been a long and arduous ordeal for Mike. He is relieved it is finally over,” said McKee.