Explicit photos of naked children found in the car of an alleged "peeping Tom" may be used in court, a federal magistrate has ruled, after the defendant, a former Coast Guardsman, sought to have the evidence tossed out.
U.S. Magistrate Lurana Snow ruled, in a recommendation to presiding U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez, that Key West police legally searched Ryan Witten's belongings and had probable cause to look in the trunk of his BMW.
Federal prosecutors responded with a Sept. 24 motion requesting the court accept Snow's finding, but Witten's public defense lawyer had not filed a response as of Wednesday.
It remains to be seen if there will be an argument before the trial over the legality of the search.
Witten, 26, formerly of 620 Angela St., was indicted by a federal grand jury July 30 on one count of possessing a visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
The maximum penalty for the charge is 10 years in prison.
"The evidence in this case was found inside the defendant's car during the course of an inventory search, which was conducted pursuant to Key West Police Department policy," Snow wrote in her recommendation. "As such, it should not be suppressed."
She also noted that Witten reportedly consented to the search of a bag found in his car by responding "OK" when Sgt. Pablo Rodriguez told him he wanted to look through it, according to court records.
Witten was first arrested in August 2012 after police received complaints about a prowler on the 700 block of Whitmarsh Lane, which runs for one block between Simonton and Elizabeth streets, connecting Angela and Petronia streets.
Officers on a special police foot patrol arrested Witten after a chase. They found cameras on him with more than 100 "suspicious" images of women, many of whom seemed unaware they were being photographed and some of whom were in various stages of undress, according to police reports.
Many of the photos looked like they were taken through windows and fences, officers reported.
Witten was convicted June 13 on five counts of video voyeurism and one count of loitering and prowling. Two weeks later, Circuit Judge Mark Jones sentenced him to 60 days in the Monroe County Detention Center and three years' probation.
The Coast Guard is in the process of discharging Witten due to his conviction in that case, according to federal court records.
Evidence that became the basis of the federal case was unearthed September 2012 when police found a locked seabag in Witten's gray BMW. That bag is at the center of the search debate.
In the car was an Apple laptop, an external hard drive, 95 CDs, 35 DVDs, 21 VHS tapes, a Black & Decker tool bag, a gym bag marked "Coast Guard Ryan Witten" and other assorted gear, according to a federal criminal complaint filed June 28.
Those items were handed over to the FBI and sent to Miami to be analyzed, according to court records.
One CD allegedly contained 30 images of naked children in sexually explicit poses and performing sexual acts, according to the complaint.
"Several of the prepubescent minors were clearly under the age of 12," the FBI agent wrote in the complaint.
There was no evidence in the complaint that any of the minors depicted were local, and no allegation in the complaint that Witten recorded local children.
Snow ruled in July that Witten be detained without bail, deeming him a flight risk.