Wanted: Lemasters doesn’t show for court
By Jane Beathard
The judge, prosecutor, defense attorney and court reporter were ready, but the defendant was a no-show.
As a result, London police are now searching for Donald F. Lemasters, 44, 153 Liberty St., after the man failed to appear in Madison County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday for his jury trial on child pornography charges.
Lemasters was indicted in August 2011 on 15 counts of pandering and nine counts of possessing pornographic images of children younger than 13, as well as a single count of possessing criminal tools.
No charges involved images of local children.
Judge Robert D. Nichols sent London police looking for Lemasters on Monday after defense attorney Joe Edwards reported that he’d had no contact with his client since July 12.
Officer Joe Cox visited the Liberty Street address four times on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, but could not locate Lemasters. A search of the residence late Monday turned up no sign of the man.
Mrs. Lemasters said she last saw her husband at 5:30 a.m. Monday. On Tuesday, a daughter said her father failed to come home the previous night.
Lemasters’ sudden disappearance took both Edwards and Nichols by surprise. Nichols said Lemasters routinely checked in with the court’s probation department — a requirement of the man’s signature bond and house arrest.
That bond is now revoked, making Lemasters’ legal woes more serious.
“If he’s picked up quickly, we could try the case next week,” Nichols said.
Lemasters was initially arrested in April 2011, based on a tip from a Franklin County task force investigating Internet crimes against children. Task force detectives browse targeted Internet sites, looking for individuals downloading significant amounts of child pornography.
London police officers, as well as deputies from Madison and Franklin counties and agents from the Ohio Bureau of Investigation (BCI), raided Lemasters’ home and confiscated computers, CDs, DVDs and other electronic storage devices that allegedly contained images of children in various stages of nudity.
Lemasters was released, then re-arrested four months later after BCI experts reviewed the confiscated material and ruled it genuine.
A series of legal delays followed as defense attorneys came and went and Lemasters filtered in and out of jail.
Private attorney Eric Hoffman resigned the case last fall after Lemasters failed to pay his bill. Nichols then appointed Fred Ballam to represent Lemasters. However, Ballam resigned in December for ethical reasons.
Lemasters sought to act as his own attorney. But, Nichols cautioned against the move and Lemasters agreed to the appointment of Edwards.
In January, Edwards successfully sought Lemasters’ release from jail on a signature bond and house arrest.
On Tuesday, Edwards acknowledged the case was difficult to defend once the judge denied a motion to suppress evidence collected in the April 2011 raid. However, Lemasters consistently declined to plea bargain with the county prosecutor’s office.
That bargain would have put Lemasters in prison for 4.5 years in exchange for guilty pleas to the pandering charges, according to assistant prosecutor Eamon Costello.
Anyone with information regarding Lemasters’ whereabouts is urged to call the London Police Department at (740) 852-1414.