Thursday, June 22, 2006                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor to stand trial on porn charges

A Slippery Rock Township PA minister accused of downloading and sending child pornography over the Internet will face trial.

District Judge James Reed yesterday dismissed 11 felony charges against Robert D. Schmidtberger, 51, of Rose Point Road, at his preliminary hearing, but held 187 felonies against the pastor for court.

Schmidtberger has been pastor of the Rose Point Reformed Presbyterian Church for 12 years.

Although Schmidtberger told Reed he is moving to Mercer County, the judge allowed him to be free on his own recognizance, under the condition he no longer is allowed to teach children.

That stipulation was requested by assistant district attorney Kate Fee-Baird.

The hearing, which lasted almost two hours, was recessed for about an hour after it started, while the judge and attorneys reviewed child pornography images that allegedly were found on Schmidtberger’s computers.

Attorneys agreed 11 of the counts of sexual abuse of children for possession of child pornography, all felonies, could be dropped.

Reed explained after the hearing those were dismissed because it was questionable whether the people in those particular pictures were juveniles.

Schmidtberger also faces three other counts of sexual abuse of children for dissemination of videotapes, photographs, computer depictions, and three counts of illegal use of a communication facility.

He was arrested in May after state police investigated his computer practices and allegedly found child pornography images in e-mails and chatrooms.

State Police Cpl. John P. Stepansky of Butler, a computer crimes investigator who filed the charges, was the sole witness.

Amidst continuos objections administered by defense attorney Thomas W. Leslie, Stepansky described for the court how he discovered the alleged pornography crime and the technical skills he used to seize the information.

At one point, Reed interrupted Leslie’s objections and asked, “Are you trying to break down the witness, or me?”

Stepansky repeated information he alleged in his affidavit, that Schmidtberger's screen name was “shysmilesviix” and that it was registered to his account at RD 4, Box 490, RPC (Rose Point Church), New Castle.

His account, through Armstrong Utilities, was assigned to him at a box number which police found was the Rose Point church address before the new 911 addressing. Through an Internet search, police then learned Schmidtberger was its pastor.

Stepansky said he found Schmidtberger’s house, then obtained a search warrant from District Judge David Rishel.

He seized four computers, about 50 CD-ROMs, 15 of which contained numerous images of child pornography and 21 zip discs, he said.

The CDs seized contained at least six e-mails with attachments of child pornography, with headers indicating they had been sent to the AOL screen name "RobthePastor."

He read aloud one e-mail between “RobthePastor” and “Pastor Ron,” where “RobthePastor” admitted to having had sexual relations with a 16-year-old high school girl.

Stepansky testified that he was alerted to Schmidtberger's computer practices via the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which was contacted by America Online.

AOL routinely monitors e-mails for attachments or embedded images that contain child pornography, he said, and AOL provided information about Schmidtberger's phone number and address.

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