Aspen ex-cop acquitted of sexual exploitation charges in jury trial
July 17, 2010
ASPEN – A Pitkin County jury Friday acquitted ex-Aspen police officer Joseph Kenney Holman of two counts of attempting to sexually exploit his stepdaughter by planting a camera in her shower stall last year. But the nine-woman, three-man panel found Holman guilty of the class-six felony charge of tampering with evidence, and a misdemeanor count of attempted invasion of privacy.
Holman’s family members hugged after the jury left the courtroom. The verdict was delivered at approximately 10:40 p.m., some six hours after the jury began deliberations.
Had Holman been convicted of the attempted sexual exploitation charges, he would have had to register as a sex offender and undergo counseling, among other sanctions. He also faced up to 20 years behind bars if convicted of all four counts. He now faces up to 18 months in jail with the evidence tampering conviction, but because he has no criminal background, probation appears likely. Sentencing is set for Aug. 30.
Holman’s attorney, Lawson Wills, said he considered the jury’s decision a triumph for Holman.
“The verdict, being a non-sexual offense, is a substantial benefit for Joe Holman,” Wills said. “We understand that and we’re very appreciative of the jury’s work.”
Wills added that the verdict “will give Joe the chance to recover from what has been a very difficult year for the family.”
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Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Pototsky said he believed the jury would find Holman guilty of all the charges.
“But the jury did their job,” he said.
The trial came more than a year after Holman resigned from the Aspen Police Department on June 24, 2009, the same day he was arrested by an agent with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The previous May, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office began investigating the incident, acting on information provided to it by Pitkin County Health and Human Services, which opened the case.
Like Wednesday’s opening day of testimony, in Friday’s closing arguments attorneys told jurors they were taxed with judging Holman’s intent when he planted the camera in his then 16-year-old stepdaughter’s shower stall on April 29, 2009.
Pototsky argued it was the behavior of a sexual deviant fixated on a teenager; Wills maintained it was a misguided, anger-fueled act of retaliation by a father who had lost control of his stepdaughter.
“Why would Joe Holman put in the world’s smallest camera in a 16-year-old’s shower?” Pototsky asked the jury. “To take pictures, to take pictures of her nude.”
Countered Wills: “As an adult you can’t be anything but ashamed and embarrassed for Joe … Joe made a mistake, but Joe is not a sex offender.”
The same day Holman planted the camera, his daughter found it, then told her mother. The mother immediately called Holman at the police department, where he was working the night shift, and confronted him about the discovery. Testimony shows that Holman returned home, denied that he had done it, blamed his 7-year-old son and destroyed the camera by stomping on it.
“Not only does he deny it, he blames his 7-year-old son,” Pototsky said in closing arguments. “If he did it to piss her off, why would he blame his 7-year-old son?”
The destruction of the camera implied that Holman knew he was in trouble, and there were possibly images of his stepdaughter in the camera, Pototsky said.
“When you step on it, good-bye evidence. And Joe knew that,” Pototsky told the jury.
Wills had an opposite take.
“Was he smashing evidence or was he smashing exculpatory material? Did he slice his own throat by doing that?”
The next morning, Holman confessed to his wife that he had planted the camera, a Camball, which he purchased on spyware.com for $290. But Holman testified Thursday it was originally intended to be used in the backyard to find out who had been taking their dog of its lead.
Wills argued that the prosecution “reached” in its case to prove Holman’s guilt. There was no evidence that the camera was functional, and the stepdaughter lacked credibility because she changed her stories and was consistently disobedient, Wills told the jury.
“The level of proof is astoundingly weak,” he said. “You have a young woman going through the throes of growing up … you cannot overlook the manipulative nature of this child, extremely manipulative … She lies and she lies when it suits her.”
Wills also took shots at detectives for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, which took over the case in June 2009, after local authorities acknowledged the appearance of a conflict.
“This is one of the poorest investigations to come down the pike in a long time,” Wills told the jury, noting that the CBI investigator, Brooks Bennett, never examined the Holmans’ home, where the camera incident took place.
Holman also was vindicated, Wills argued, because he loaded the camera’s software on to his police department-issued computer, later inspected by the Rocky Mountain Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory, which found no pornographic images or files.
“Do you think he’s going to put it on a computer owned by the Aspen Police Department, or is he going to be more devious?”
Wills also told jury that Holman was in a distraught frame of mind on the day in question. In addition to having an insubordinate stepdaughter, Holman was reeling from the recent death of his mother and the suicide of a cousin. The prosecution, Wills suggested, was adding insult to injury.
“[The Holman family] has paid a tremendous price for what has happened already,” Wills told the jury. “The prosecution wants more.”
Pototsky pounced on that argument.
“Life’s not easy,” he said. “But that doesn’t give you an excuse to break the law. That doesn’t give you an excuse to ‘perp’ on your daughter. That is shameful.”