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Child pornography cases increasing in Floyd courts

Child pornography cases increasing in Floyd courts

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Floyd County Courthouse

The Floyd County Circuit Courthouse on March 11, 2021. 

Zane Carter Holliday of Floyd was scheduled to enter a plea Sept. 7 on possession of child pornography charges in Floyd County Circuit Court.

Instead of entering a plea deal, though, Holliday, who as charged by a grand jury on April 6 – more than two years after photos were discovered on a computer under his control – requested a bench trail, resulting in a continuance.

In another case related to charges of both possession and production of child pornography, local bluegrass musician Ben Silcox is slated for a two-day jury trial.

That case dates back to 2018, and has been continued six times due to court shutdowns during the pandemic. The trial is set for Oct. 25 and 26. A motions hearing was scheduled for Sept. 7, but his lawyer asked for a continuance to Oct. 14.

In child porn cases, deals often include dropping of some or all child porn charges. In those cases, Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Branscom says, the evidence is often too weak to get a conviction in a trial but can be enough to obtain a guilty plea on a lesser charge.

A search of court cases found at least 26 cases that originally included charges of child porn but 19 that resulted in convictions on those, or least some, of the charges. All but two were settled in deals.

Three others were losses in court, but those losses did not involve the current Common-wealth’s Attorney Branscom or his predecessor Stephanie Shortt. Only 12 cases involving child porn were found in the 20 years before 2016.

The check of records showed a number of cases where a Floyd County resident was charged with child pornography, but the case was either never presented to a grand jury or charges were dropped at the request of then-Commonwealth’s Attorney Hannett. Cases increased sharply when Shortt took over and even more so under Branscom’s watch.

Branscom says the FBI has asked his office why a rural county like Floyd has so many child sexual abuse charges.

“We’re not sure if this reflects an increase in crimes or an increase in those reporting the crimes,” Branscom said.

Floyd County currently has more than a half-dozen crimes of child pornography and/or sexual abuse of children indicted or under investigation.

In another case before the court on Sept. 7, Timothy D. Poff of Henry was scheduled for trial on a charge of manufacturing methamphetamine for distribution after he sold some of the drug to an uncover informant for the Floyd County drug task force. However, his attorney, Harold “Chip” Slate, told Judge Fleenor he had learned the confidential informant was also a client of his in other matters and asked to be removed because it was a conflict of interest.

Fleenor and Branscom agreed, and the judge appointed Ryan Hamrick of Christiansburg as the new attorney and the judge continued the case until a later date.

In other cases, before Circuit Court:

Joshua Eugene Andrews of Check entered a guilty plea on a third or more offense of assault and bat-tery of a family member and was sentenced to six months in prison with three years and six months hanging over his head if he violates supervised probation;

The judge denied a request for bail by Bonnie Jo Abuhawas of Roanoke, awaiting a probation violation on Oct. 12 for a distribution of meth conviction. It was the second denial and the second one came for the same reason: a history of failed court appearances.

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