January 8, 2020 120 PM
TERLINGUA — Federal prosecutors say they need more time to build their case against Thomas Arthur, a man in his 60s who they accused last year of running a text erotica site focused on child sexual abuse from his Terlingua-area home.
In a motion filed last month in federal court, the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Texas said they plan to take Arthur to trial in June — around six months later than the original scheduled court date in January. They say the case against Arthur is “so unusual or so complex” that it is “unreasonable to expect adequate preparation” in time for the original January court date, the motion states.
Authorities have seized at least 25 media devices from Arthur — including cell phones, VHS tapes and flash drives — which prosecutors say will take a “considerable amount of time” to analyze, according to the filing. The FBI also seized 95 boxes of “sexually oriented books” that “need to be inventoried, catalogued and photographed/scanned” in a process that will “take additional weeks.”
And while the charges against Arthur originally focused on allegedly obscene text and artwork, prosecutors say they’ve now allegedly found actual child pornography on at least one device, according to the motion.
The U.S. attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Mark Bennett, a Houston-based criminal defense lawyer representing Arthur, said it was “not uncommon” for cases like this to be “declared complex” and postponed.
“We had no objections that would make any difference,” he said of the delay.
“I would certainly rather than Mr. Arthur get out sooner rather than later,” he added. “But, on the other hand, his chances of getting out are better if all the I’s are dotted and all the T’s are crossed.”
Arthur’s legal saga began in November, when the FBI and local authorities raided his secluded residence in south Brewster County, as The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported.
Federal authorities later charged Arthur with three crimes: importation or transportation of obscene matters, engaging in the business of selling or transferring obscene matters, and obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children.
An affidavit, written by an FBI special agent and attached to the original criminal complaint, offers more context. Starting as early as 2005, the affidavit states, Arthur allegedly owned and operated a website that charged membership fees for “text stories about the sexual abuse of children.”
“Most of the stories on the site graphically describe instances of rape, incest and adults sexually abusing children,” the affidavit stated. Authorities have redacted the name of the website because some of its users are still under investigation. The FBI started investigating the site in September, using a subscriber’s account to download at least five stories. During questioning, Arthur allegedly admitted to running the website but said pornographic drawings of children on the website were “art.”
It remains to be seen whether the feds’ case against Arthur will focus on written texts or on any child pornography later found on Arthur’s property. In 2003, Congress tightened restrictions on depictions of child pornography, banning drawings, cartoons, scupltures and paintings that depict “a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct.” But the Supreme Court struck down a similar law in 2002, and the laws on text-based child pornography are far from settled.
In his interview with The Big Bend Sentinel, Bennett said it was “very unusual” for authorities to bring obscenity charges based on writings. “It’s hard to see how text can be shown to have no artistic value,” he said.
At a bond hearing later in November, the public learned more about Arthur and the site he allegedly ran. He reportedly earned $10,000 to $14,000 a month from the child sex abuse erotica site as well as from another website, which focused on adult pornography and erotica. Authorities said they found 50 firearms, including antiques, at his residence. They also said Arthur was selling firearms online, along with ammunition he allegedly advertised as “armor-piercing.”
His lawyer, Mark Bennett, argued in court that Arthur should be granted bond, noting that Arthur did not need a license to sell weapons online. He also said that Arthur was not a flight risk and lived on a secluded ranch where he did not come into contact with children.
Judge David B. Fannin, who presided over the hearing, declined to offer Arthur bond. He also declined to move Arthur out of solitary confinement, saying the U.S. Marshals Service had placed Arthur in solitary for Arthur’s own protection and that he did not want to “undermine” their decision.