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Monday, September 10, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Church defends pastor charged with child porn

WACO TX -- Members of a local church whose former part-time pastor has been arrested on child pornography charges don’t think he meant to do anything wrong, the church’s full-time preacher says.

Henry Edgington, 63, stepped down from his leadership position at Elm Mott Church of Christ before his arrest Thursday, says Sam Armstrong, the church’s main pastor. Although Edgington maintains — and some church members believe — that he had the graphic images because he was doing research to try and get child pornography sites off the Internet, he decided to quit his post the past week or so because he feared he might be charged with a crime, Armstrong said.

Those fears played out this week when Edgington was arrested on seven counts of possessing child pornography. According to affidavits supporting his arrest, he had multiple illegal pictures of children in a padlocked box at his home. They were found and brought to police by the fiancée of Edgington’s son. She found the box in his bathroom, the affidavits say.

Such circumstances might seem damning to people who don’t know Edgington, Armstrong said. But he and the other 60 people who attend the church fully believe Edgington’s claims, he said. For one thing, Edgington is a spiritual person and a family man, with three children and several grandchildren, he said.

Plus, Edgington had talked about his project long before the pictures were turned over to police, Armstrong said. About six months to a year ago, Edgington told him he was contacting a group from Florida that works to get child pornography off the Internet, he said.

One of the group’s strategies, Edgington told Armstrong, was to involve legislators in the fight. His plan, Armstrong said, was to eventually turn the information he gathered over to U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco.

A spokesman for Edwards’ office, however, said it has not received any communication from Edgington.

Armstrong concedes Edgington may have violated the letter of the law. But in his defense, he said Edgington never expected anyone to go through the materials, which Armstrong was told were in the lockbox in a closet.

Asked about Edgington’s son’s fiancée, Armstrong said he didn’t want to comment much on the woman. But he did say she has behaved strangely at times.

“It’s just a real tragedy,” Armstrong said. “He was kind of like one man against the world. He was just trying to get something done.”

The Tribune-Herald found Edgington, who was released from jail on $70,000 bond, at his home Friday. He declined an interview but did make a few comments.

“My side of the story will come out,” he said, adding that knowing that some people think he is a pedophile is a horrible feeling.

Asked about the group in Florida, Edgington said it is not an official organization but rather a network of child advocates, including ministers. The approach they have used has worked in Florida, he said.

Edgington said he has been in the ministry for 37 years and that for 35 of those years he was a state prison chaplain. A prison system spokesman said he couldn’t find any record of Edgington being employed as a chaplain. But it’s possible he has volunteered as one, the spokesman said.

Scott Holt, the Waco police detective working the case, said Edgington mentioned being a chaplain during his interview with police. However, Holt said he hasn’t been able to verify that information.

What police do know, Holt said, is that Edgington was also working part time at the Czech Inn of West. That’s where he accessed the illegal images. Edgington doesn’t have a computer at his home, he said.

Holt said he doesn’t know the circumstances of how Edgington’s future daughter-in-law came to find the box. Police only got involved after she showed up at the police department and handed the box over to officers, he said.

This is the first time Holt has ever dealt with a situation like this, he said. Occasionally someone will call the police department after stumbling across what appears to be child pornography. But he has never heard from anyone claiming to have done an investigation on his own.

Holt said it’s difficult to know what to make of Edgington’s claims. Edgington produced a magazine article about a group in Florida that is trying to combat child exploitation, but Holt said he doesn’t know the details of what that group does.

State laws do differ on child pornography, Holt said. But he said he doubts any group, in Florida or elsewhere, is doing what Edgington claims to have done because federal statutes prohibit it.

“The federal law is the same everywhere and possession is possession,” Holt said.

The detective said that while some people might think Edgington was doing a heroic thing, the truth is that every time he accessed an illegal image, he was exploiting the child pictured in it.

“He believes his heart was in the right place, but that was not a defense,” Holt said. “He decided to play police and it was a mistake.”

Under the law, the only people who can legally access child pornography are licensed peace officers investigating a case involving the images, Holt said. Members of the public who come across what they believe to be illegal pictures should contact their local law enforcement department, he said.

Donna Holdbrook, general manager of the Czech Inn, said no one at the hotel knew what Edgington was doing on the computers there. He has not been to work since late August, when he asked for time off so he could spend more time with his church, she said.

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