Man's conviction upheld after FFs found child pornography at house fire

A judge said the evidence found by firefighters while fighting the blaze were sufficient to justify the man's conviction


Matt Miller
The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pa.

LEBANON COUNTY, Pa. — A midstate man who was convicted and jailed for possessing child pornography after firefighters found it in his burning home didn’t get a raw deal during his trial, a state appeals court has ruled.

That decision, outlined in a Superior Court opinion by Senior Judge John L. Musmanno, upholds the 6 month- to 2-year prison term slapped on 56-year-old Robert S. Groff.

Groff’s legal problems began with the January 2017 fire call to his North Cornwall Township home.

“While inside Groff’s home, one firefighter observed a stack of photographs, with the top photograph appearing to show a nude minor person,” Musmanno wrote.

The police were called, photos and male sex toys were seized and Groff was charged with 71 counts of child porn possession. A Lebanon County jury later convicted him on 10 of those charges.

On appeal, Groff claimed prosecutors shouldn’t have been allowed to show the jury photos that he insisted didn’t constitute child porn. Nor should the jurors been allowed to see his sex toys “in particular, one home-made masturbation device,” he contended.

Musmanno rejected Groff’s claim that prosecutors didn’t prove the images found in his house were child porn, citing a description of the photos given by county Judge John C. Tywalk.

Seven of those pictures “depict a young woman performing gymnastics in the nude,” Tywalk wrote. “It is common sense that this is not the normal mode of dress for children when they are engaging in this activity.”

Two other photos for which Groff was convicted were of naked young girls, the county judge noted.

Musmanno agreed prosecutors should not have been allowed to show the jury the adult porn or the homemade sex toy taken from Groff’s house. His conviction should still stand, however, because “it is clear by the jury’s verdict that it was not influenced by the admission of the contested evidence,” the state judge wrote.

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©2020 The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, Pa.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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