Former prosecutor turned fugitive James Cameron was released from prison pending appeal in part because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer that prompted the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals to question whether prosecutors could uphold his conviction on 13 counts related to child pornography.
Based on those questions, an appeals court set Cameron free in August 2011 with the understanding that he would adhere to several conditions, including a curfew and electronic monitoring.
On Nov. 14 of this year, Cameron learned the appeals court in Boston ruled to uphold seven of the 13 charges against him and he would likely return to prison while his case was sent back to U.S. District Court in Maine. That night or in the early hours of Nov. 15, Cameron cut off the electronic monitoring bracelet and fled, sparking a nationwide manhunt. He remains missing.
That Supreme Court ruling, known as Bullcoming vs. New Mexico, involved a charge of operating under the influence. During the trial, a supervisor testified about the forensic analysis conducted by an employee. The defendant’s lawyer argued that the testimony should not have been allowed because the defense was not allowed to cross-examine the person who actually performed the analysis.
The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which spells out procedures for criminal prosecution, contains what’s known as a “confrontation clause.” That means that defense attorneys are permitted to confront any government witnesses. Bullcoming vs. New Mexico, the Supreme Court decided, violated that clause.
The same reasoning applied to Cameron’s case because throughout the trial and during the appeal process, Cameron’s attorneys raised doubts about certain elements of the prosecution’s case, primarily the admittance of testimonial evidence from Google and Yahoo employees who discovered evidence of child pornography and referred it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Those referrals were the basis of the investigation of Cameron by the Maine State Police’s computer crimes unit.
However, Cameron’s attorneys did not have the opportunity to cross-examine those employees because they were not in the courtroom. Applying the Bullcoming precedent, that violated the confrontation clause.
Since the evidence provided by Google and Yahoo was crucial to the prosecution, there was a strong possibility Cameron’s conviction might be overturned, so he was released on bail.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Malone said Cameron was always considered a flight risk, not because he was a prominent figure with out-of-state ties but because of the severity of charges against him and the likelihood of a long prison sentence.
But once it became clear that there was a reasonable chance that Cameron could win his appeal, the judge could not reasonably keep him detained, she said.
Even before Cameron was indicted on 16 counts related to child pornography in February 2009, the prosecution expressed concern that he might flee, since he was no longer living in Maine and had traveled overseas on several occasions.
After his indictment, a U.S. Magistrate judge denied the prosecution’s request that Cameron be held without bail and allowed his release on an unsecured bond of $75,000. An unsecured bond meant that Cameron did not have to pay anything up front or provide collateral but would have to pay that amount if he violated bail, not uncommon for cases like Cameron’s.
Once he was convicted in August 2010, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock concluded that although Cameron was not considered a risk prior to conviction, that potential was elevated greatly after he was found guilty. Woodcock rejected a request that he be released until his sentencing in March 2011.
Since the sentencing, Cameron’s attorneys asked the judge on multiple occasions to release him on bail pending an appeal of his conviction. Each time, Woodcock denied the request.
Cameron’s attorney, Peter Horstmann, said his client had never been a flight risk until recently. He had traveled frequently before his indictment and after his home was searched, but always came back.
Malone agreed that Cameron dutifully followed all the conditions of release for several months. The only time he failed was when he fled.