WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- A cadet in his last year at West Point collected and traded photos and videos of boys being forced into sexual acts, a federal prosecutor said Tuesday.
In opening statements at the trial of Ricky Patrick Hester, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Schorr warned jurors that the evidence is disturbing and graphic, "but in order to understand what is going on here, you need to see it."
Hester, 25, of Granger, Indiana, has pleaded not guilty to charges of possessing and distributing child pornography. If convicted of distribution, he would face five to 20 years in prison and could be further disciplined by West Point.
Tall and lanky, he wore his hair Army short in court.
Schorr said Hester "confessed in full" the day he was arrested at his barracks on the West Point campus. But his lawyer, Patrick Mullin, said the government's questioning and its search of Hester's room were improper. In his opening statement, Mullin also suggested that investigators settled on Hester too soon as their suspect, noting that another cadet used the same room and that a West Point wireless network was available to other cadets.
Several members of Hester's family attended the trial. They would not talk to a reporter.
Hester was arrested in December 2013, one semester short of graduation, after emails expressing interest in child porn were traced to him from Idaho. Schorr said Hester used his cellphone and a Dropbox account to amass "hundreds of shocking portrayals of children."
He traded for more images, she said, quoting an email she says was written by Hester that sought pictures of "boys tied up and being forced to do things."
Schorr said Homeland Security agents obtained a search warrant for Hester's room and found his cellphone.
The trial's first witness was Steven Cerutti, a Homeland Security agent who testified that he found the phone in a bag under Hester's desk. On cross-examination, Mullin asked the agent if the bag could have been the roommate's. The agent said he didn't know.
Schorr said representatives from Dropbox and Yahoo would be testifying about how cellphone and email evidence was linked to Hester.
She said Hester, after agreeing to be interviewed by two agents, acknowledged he had sent and received child pornography. The defense lawyer, however, said, "The purpose of that interview was to nail him" rather than to gather information. He had tried to get the statements suppressed.
Hester has been on administrative leave since his arrest. West Point has said the allegations are inconsistent with Army values.