Wash. detective tracks worldwide child porn

Wash. detective tracks worldwide child porn
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RICHLAND, Wash. (AP) - When Detective Roy Shepherd got the first report in October 2005, it appeared to be a typical child sex crime - a young girl molested by a relative.

The suspect, Kenneth Freeman, was charged with rape but fled the country before going to trial.

His victim aired her story on national television hoping it would lead to his capture, and only then did investigators realize the gravity of Freeman's actions.

Shepherd knew Freeman had taken pictures and videos as he sexually abused his preteen daughter Kylie. But less than 48 hours after she spoke on America's Most Wanted, Shepherd got word that the girl's images had been posted on the internet.

Videos of the abuse - in which Freeman is said to be clearly recognizable - have become among the most downloaded series of internet child pornography, and now require Richland police Detective Shepherd to testify around the country about their validity.

As Freeman acknowledged last month before he was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison, he can never take back what he did.

That leaves Kylie feeling ice cold every time she thinks about the "sick" people who take pleasure out of watching her "body being ravaged and raped."

"Those images are out there forever," Kylie, now 19, said at her father's sentencing. "We can never erase what Ken has done."

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, or NCMEC, had been looking for years for the girl featured in child porn known as the "Vicky series."

Kylie was 10 and 11 when her father would dress her up like a hooker, make her say dirty words to a video camera and rape her as she was bound by ropes. It happened during weekend visits.

She kept quiet for five years, fearing she would get in trouble and her father would go to jail but finally told her mother and stepfather, Gaye and Chris Peale.

A few months later while trying to download a demonstration for her Spanish class, Kylie discovered multiple file names with sexual references on her computer's hard drive.

Freeman had earlier given the computer to his daughter, telling her it had the same hard drive as his. But apparently he believed that he had first deleted all the child porn files.

Police ultimately uncovered at least 80,000 images on two hard drives and 200 video clips. Kylie was the subject of two videos, though Shepherd said he knows of at least 20 on the internet.

Freeman was out on bail and living in Seattle when detectives found the additional evidence. Already charged in Benton County Superior Court with three counts of first-degree rape and facing a bail increase, he fled to China and worked as a computer consultant for a little over a year.

The former Hanford patrol officer and Benton County sheriff's reserve deputy was one of the country's most-wanted fugitives when he was arrested in May 2007 in Hong Kong. To highlight Freeman's abuse and draw attention to his case, Kylie appeared on America's Most Wanted in December 2006.

A Toronto detective watching the weekend show recognized Kylie as the victim in the Vicky series and notified NCMEC. Shepherd got a call the following Monday.

"They sent me the images, and I said, 'Oh yeah, that's her,"' said Shepherd. "Then I learned it was one of the most downloaded child pornography series ever."

NCMEC acts as a clearinghouse for law enforcement, reviewing all child porn seized after arrests to determine if the victims have been identified. If the exploited child is known, the national center based in Alexandria, Va., will then put investigators in touch with the lead agency and ensure prosecutors have information necessary for their cases.

When a child is unknown, officials look for any landmarks or names in the images and videos to help pinpoint the jurisdiction so investigators can "locate the child and make the offender accountable," said Michelle Collins, executive director of NCMEC's Exploited Child Division.

NCMEC does not maintain its own victim database.

The national center works with the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, in addition to other U.S. government and international agencies.

"The volume is just astounding ... (that is) coming in from cases across the country," Collins said. "Law enforcement are finding that when they seize computers now, the volume of images and videos are just increasing at an exponential rate, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that computers are more and more affordable and storage space is just getting bigger and bigger."

As of March 29, law enforcement worldwide has identified 2,170 exploited children younger than 18 whose images and/or videos have been posted on the web. Collins said 835 of those were identified in just the last year.

Nearly 22 million images and videos have been seized, according to NCMEC's Child Victim Identification Program. During just one week in March, 273,685 images and videos were reviewed by the program.

"The unique aspect of this crime is once images have been produced or videos have been produced, there is no shelf life ... because if the images are on the Internet, they will continue to circulate," Collins said.

To Kylie, that is a constant reminder "of the horror of my childhood ... (and) how sick the world can be."

Shepherd has worked hundreds of child sex cases in his seven years as a Richland detective, but it quickly became apparent Freeman's case had a new dimension.

"I thought this was just another one, but never did I think it was going to change my life as it did," he said. "And it's never going to go away. It's always going to be on the internet."

As lead investigator on Freeman's case, Shepherd has attended 11 federal trials and courts martial to testify that Kylie is a real girl - not a virtual girl - and was a child when the videos were made. Often his testimony lasts only five minutes, but it is needed to convict defendants charged federally with downloading child porn.

"With the Vicky series, you don't need me to say that's a child. Anybody with common sense will look at that and see it's a child," he said.

But a federal law requires that fact be proved. Shepherd receives numerous federal subpoenas, but a majority of the defendants plead guilty at the last minute or stipulate to the facts regarding Kylie being a real child in the images.

And Shepherd isn't alone. He is one of many law enforcement officers with an identified series, and he often sees the same investigators at different trials.

"(The defense attorneys) don't really want us to get up there because it looks bad for their client," he said.

A map on the wall above Shepherd's desk at the Richland Police Department is titled, "Where in the U.S. is Roy Shepherd?" Little smiley-face stickers show where he has gone to testify since 2007.

Requests from officers and prosecutors for details on Kylie's case arrive daily in his e-mail. To streamline the process, he has an affidavit, a victim-impact statement and a copy of Kylie's birth certificate that go out with his response.

"If I had to go to every one, you wouldn't even be able to see my map, it would be so obliterated with dots," he said.

Shepherd went to one trial in 2007, six in 2008 and four already this year. He was scheduled to be at a court martial last week at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, but the trial was delayed.

He had orders to go to Afghanistan to testify against a soldier caught with child porn, but the defendant admitted it before trial.

In another case, Shepherd was on a plane to Cincinnati when the defendant pleaded guilty. He got the news after landing and 30 minutes later was back on a plane to Seattle. He has learned to travel light and often passes the time typing up his Richland case reports. He has a full caseload at the Richland Police Department, but is afforded time to travel at the expense of the federal government.

Starting April 20, Shepherd may face four consecutive weeks of trials.

"Every one I have gone to and testified at has had a conviction, and generally within hours of going to the jury," he said, noting that many of the defendants are professionals, including a Fresno, Calif., detective sergeant who kept his own collection from case evidence. "... They try to fight it, and they have all lost."