11/02/07 — Teens in trouble for Internet sex videos

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Teens in trouble for Internet sex videos

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on November 2, 2007 2:09 PM

Student pornography is probably not what Greene County Schools officials wanted or expected to see when they started distributing laptops with cameras in the fall of 2003.

But that is exactly what happened in at least two separate cases, prosecutors who cover Greene, Wayne and Lenoir counties said.

Three Greene County laptops have been seized by the State Bureau of Investigation because students used the cameras to film themselves in sexual situations, District Attorney Branny Vickory said.

Apple MacBook laptops have shipped cameras standard above their screens for a few model generations, intended primarily for video conferencing.

Vickory now must decide whether to pursue prosecution against the students who instead used the video cameras to violate a state law with very serious consequences.

The students involved face as much as five years in prison, even as first-time offenders for what is classified as a Class D felony, Vickory said.

Assistant District Attorney Jan T. Kroboth described the individual situations that led to the seized laptops.

"With your Macs, you can send your teacher your homework" over the Internet, Mrs. Kroboth said.

A 16-year-old student inadvertently sent a video of himself and his 15-year-old girlfriend having sex instead of the homework file, Mrs. Kroboth said.

In another, separate case, a 15-year-old student filmed himself in a sexual position with the intention of sending the video to his girlfriend in Ohio, Mrs. Kroboth said.

In at least one of the cases, a school resource officer seized an electronic device being used to display one of the videos at a Greene County school, Mrs. Kroboth said.

Both the 16-year-old student who filmed his girlfriend and the 15-year-old might have violated the current law because of the way the legislation is written, the prosecutor said.

"I guarantee these legislators, when they wrote that law, they were thinking of the dirty old men," Vickory said.

Instead the students are "both guilty of a very serious crime," Vickory said.

Vickory said this is a case that defines prosecutorial discretion, and he is struggling to determine what action he should take.

"It's a nightmare," Vickory said. "It's the damnedest thing I've ever seen. I've probably burned more brain cells about this than I do about most murder cases."

On Apple's corporate Web site, the Greene County School District is featured as one of its "Profiles in Success."

Greene County Superin-tendent Steve Mazingo described meeting with Apple executives in Cupertino to discuss needs of the small rural school district.

A secretary at the school district said Mazingo was out of town and could not be reached for comment on Friday morning.

On Apple.com, Apple's public relations team quotes Mazingo praising the iBooks and training that Apple provided to teachers.

"As soon as the kids had the iBook laptops in their hands, the school environment just became different," Mazingo is quoted as saying.

The Greene County School official who normally handles media inquiries did not immediately return a voicemail seeking comment Friday.

Vickory and Mrs. Kroboth said there are general use and misuse policies that Greene County officials distribute to students who get the laptops.

Next week, the prosecutors plan to film a video that tells the students why filming themselves in such situations is not a good idea.

Mrs. Kroboth and Vickory said they planned to use a door at the Wayne County Jail in Goldsboro slamming shut as one illustration.

But the prosecutors said that they did not want the actions of a few students to cast a harsh light on a good program.

"I don't take the tack that the computer is the root of all evil," Vickory said. "There's too much good stuff that they're doing, and you're just talking about a handful of kids that are doing it.

"You don't want to ruin what is an awesome program for them."

Vickory still has a sworn duty to uphold the law, he said.

"That's what prosecutorial discretion is all about," Vickory said. "There might be somebody I would theoretically indict for manufacturing pornography, the question is that what I want to do, is that what the law was intended for.

"That's the conundrum, I guess."