By Jane Beathard
A London man was convicted of 24 counts of possessing and pandering child pornography and a single count of possessing criminal tools on Friday, after pleading no contest to the charges in Madison County Common Pleas Court.
By pleading no contest, Donald F. Lemasters, 44, 153 Liberty St., preserved his right to appeal the conviction.
Judge Robert D. Nichols ordered a pre-sentence investigation and set sentencing for Oct. 19. Lemasters could spend up to 126 years in prison and pay up to $257,000 in fines for the multi-count conviction. However, Nichols noted Ohio’s current guidelines regarding consecutive sentences and Lemasters’ lack of a criminal history will likely mean much less time behind bars. He will be forced to register as a sex offender for 25 years.
In the meantime, Lemasters remains in Tri-County Regional Jail without bond.
In return for the no-contest pleas, Assistant Madison County Prosecutor Kirsten Gross said she will not charge Lemasters with fleeing the county to avoid a July 17 jury trial.
Friday’s plea hearing marked a milestone in a case that began in April 2011 when deputies from Franklin and Madison counties, London police officers and agents from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation raided the Liberty Street house and confiscated computers, DVDs, CDs and other electronic storage devices containing images of children in various stages of nudity and engaged in sexual acts. None of those images were of local children.
The raid was based on a tip from a Franklin County task force investigating Internet crimes against children that someone at the Liberty Street address was downloading child pornography to a home computer from file-sharing networks.
A series of legal delays followed, as Lemasters changed attorneys and filtered in and out of jail.
Court-appointed attorney Joe Edwards obtained Lemasters’ release from jail on house arrest in January and prepared for the July trial. However, just days before a jury was scheduled to hear the case, Lemasters disappeared.
U.S. Marshals eventually found the man hiding in the attic of his parents’ Warren home. He waived extradition and was returned to Madison County on Aug. 2.
Private attorney Eric Hoffman represented Lemasters on Friday. Earlier, Nichols over-ruled Hoffman’s motion to suppress evidence gathered in the 2011 search of the Liberty Street home. Hoffman argued authorities used improper methods to obtain Lemasters’ Internet provider address and trace it to the house.
It’s an argument frequently heard in today’s criminal cases involving child pornography on the Internet. Along with the debate over file-sharing networks and how they work, it will likely provide the basis for Lemasters’ future appeal.