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TEXARKANA, Ark.— A 67-year-old man awaiting sentencing on a federal child pornography charge wants to be released from the Miller County jail because of the COVID-19 pandemic and is taking his case to a federal appellate court.

Charles Donald Thompson pleaded guilty to receipt of child pornography Jan. 24 at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey in Texarkana's downtown federal building. Thompson had been free on a $5,000 unsecured appearance bond but was taken into custody at the conclusion of his plea hearing.

More than 1,000 files containing video and still images involving the sexual exploitation of children were discovered on Thompson's computer equipment, according to a plea agreement on file in the Texarkana Division of the Western District of Arkansas. A search was conducted of Thompson's home in Winthrop, Ark., by Little River County Sheriff's Office deputies after a minor told her school guidance counselor in December 2018 that Thompson had showed her child pornography on his computer.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Alex Wynn filed a motion on March 17 for Thompson's release from custody.

"Due to Defendant's age and pre-existing lung conditions, he is at a very high risk of life-threatening sickness if he contracts the COVID-19 virus while detained at the Miller County Jail," the motion for release states.

The motion argues that Thompson's age and diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, should be considered and notes that he complied with conditions of release from July 2019 until he was taken into custody following his guilty plea.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Wulff filed a response on March 19 to Thompson's motion opposing release. In his response, Wulff notes that Thompson faces a minimum five-year prison term and argues that Thompson is a danger to the community.

Wulff argues that a minor girl interviewed during the investigation revealed that Thompson allegedly sexually assaulted her after being "groomed with pornography and alcohol." Wulff notes that a second minor corroborated much of what the other minor disclosed to investigators and that Thompson allegedly asked the second girl for nude photos.

Wulff's response states there are currently no cases of COVID-19 confirmed or suspected in the Miller County jail and lists steps jail staff and administrators are taking to minimize the risk of exposure to current inmates and detainees. The response also outlines the jail's policy for responding to medical concerns surrounding the virus.

"The defendant's medical condition and the very existence of a dangerous virus outside MCDC (Miller County Detention Center) walls is not an 'exceptional reason' which provides grounds for the immediate release of this defendant or any of the other numerous incarcerated individuals with health conditions throughout the United States," Wulff's response states.

Wynn filed a reply to Wulff's response which argues that the health risk to Thompson is real and which emphasizes that Thompson's alleged misconduct with the two minors occurred prior to his federal charge.

"The Government bases its contention that Mr. Thompson is a danger to the community on uncharged accusations from minors of whom Mr. Thompson and his wife took the required steps to relinquish custody after his arraignment. Mr. Thompson had no contact with the minors the Government references, or any minors for that matter, during the six months and 14 days that he was on pretrial release," Wynn's reply states.

U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey sided with the government March 25 and denied the motion for Thompson's release.

"Although Defendant's age and preexisting lung condition do make it more likely that he would experience acute symptoms if he were to contract COVID-19, his situation is not clearly out of the ordinary, uncommon, or rare. Many prisoners have preexisting health conditions that render them particularly susceptible to various contagions, including the current COVID-19 outbreak. However, there are currently no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Miller County, Arkansas; the Miller County Jail; or Texarkana, Arkansas. The Miller County Jail has also taken precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and there is no indication Defendant has or will be denied any necessary medical treatment or that the Miller County Jail is incapable of rendering adequate medical treatment should the need arise," Hickey's opinion states.

One case of COVID-19 has been confirmed in unincorporated Miller County since Hickey issued her opinion.

Wynn filed a notice March 26 that Hickey's ruling is being appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. A docketing letter dated March 27 gives Thompson's lawyer seven days to file a statement of the case and attach relevant portions of the district court case record. Once served, the government has seven days to respond. After both sides have weighed in, the case will be submitted for a ruling by the 8th Circuit.

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