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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (ChurchMilitant.com) - (caution: graphic content) A federal criminal case is proceeding against a traditionalist priest arrested for child porn, even as state charges are being dismissed.
On January 14, a Rhode Island state court dropped criminal charges against Fr. James Jackson of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP). It is understood as a procedural move deferring to the federal court, where the priest is being prosecuted on similar charges of possession and distribution of child porn.
Normally, the state and federal government do not pursue convictions for the same conduct. If the federal government decides to charge a defendant, the state will normally relax their position. If charges have already been filed in state court, state prosecutors will stand down by dismissing existing charges or resetting the case until the federal prosecution has run its course. If the punishment received in the federal case is adequate, the state authorities will often dismiss the state case.
A Dec. 21 arraignment order notes that Judge William E. Smith is assigned to the court case and will oversee the trial. Thus far no motion has been filed in federal court to dismiss the charges.
Jackson entered a plea of not guilty at his federal arraignment, which criminal defense attorneys normally advise for their clients at this stage regardless of actual guilt or innocence or the strength of the evidence:
Defense attorneys usually recommend that criminal defendants plead not guilty at arraignment. If a defendant pleads not guilty, the prosecutor must gather the evidence against the defendant and then give the defense an opportunity to review the evidence, investigate the case, and determine whether the evidence proves that the defendant committed the crime. A not guilty plea means simply that the defendant is going to make the state prove the case against him.
As one legal resource explains, at this stage of the case the prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer may not yet have thoroughly reviewed all the facts: "[M]ost criminal defendants plead not guilty at the arraignment hearing. By pleading not guilty, the criminal defendant buys time. This gives his or her defense lawyer the opportunity to review the case and to assert all possible defenses."
An initial not guilty plea is often withdrawn later and changed to guilty or no contest if the defendant accepts a plea deal, a common occurrence in criminal cases.
Contrary to popular misconception, a not guilty plea is not a declaration of personal innocence, but rather a procedural move that will require the state to prove the case against the defendant.
Father Jackson has never issued a public statement denying the charges or proclaiming his innocence.
Some have erroneously claimed the priest is asserting his "Fifth Amendment right" against self-incrimination, but that right only applies against being forced to testify in court or speak to police. It does not prevent the accused from issuing a statement to the public denying the charges. In fact, many accused clergy are often quick to issue such public statements in the face of serious allegations.
Assigned pastor of St. Mary's Church in Providence, Rhode Island since August, Jackson was arrested in October after a two-month investigation traced pornographic materials back to his rectory computer.
Jackson waived his right to a preliminary hearing Nov. 3, at his initial appearance in federal court. The preliminary hearing is where the judge determines whether probable cause exists to move forward with a trial, and where the accused may present counterarguments and exculpatory evidence on his behalf. Jackson chose to forego these options.
He was released on bond with electronic monitoring and permitted to travel to Kansas to stay with family. His internet use is restricted, and he is required to obey a curfew.
An affidavit signed Nov. 1 by Homeland Security Special Agent James Richardson details the nature of the investigation and the footage found on the rectory computer:
On September 4, 2021, East Providence Police Department (EPPD) and Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force member Detective Corporal Stephen Evans identified a computer or other device utilizing Internet Protocol (IP) address 126.96.36.199 sharing files of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) using a peer-to-peer file-sharing network.
Detective Corporal Evans viewed a portion of the aforementioned files and confirmed several of the video files content to be CSAM. One of the files is described below:
File Name: Wanted Dad And Daughter-1
Description: This video is two minutes, and 32 seconds of a nude prepubescent female performing oral sex on an adult male.
After discovering that child porn had been downloaded or uploaded and sent from the rectory computer Sunday, Sept. 26; Friday, Oct. 15; and Sunday, Oct. 17; Detective Evans and other members of the ICAC Task Force raided St. Mary's rectory on Oct. 30.
The task force found the priest outside his rectory and conducted a search of two rooms inside the building. Officers read him his Miranda rights, and the priest asked to speak with his attorney "after learning that detectives were there to investigate offenses related to child pornography."
The affidavit details other disturbing footage found on the priest's external hard drive, located just outside his bedroom.
RISP Forensic Analyst (FA) Gerald Gent conducted an on-scene forensic preview of Jackson's 2 terabyte Western Digital easystore external hard drive located in Jackson's office area of the rectory which adjoined Jackson's bedroom. As a result of the preview, FA Gent observed hundreds of image and video files depicting [child sexual abuse material]. These image and video files depicted prepubescent females, including infants and toddlers, engaged in sexual acts, to include bondage and bestiality, and/or the graphic and lascivious exhibition of their genitals. One particular video file, Jenny Suck Dog Cock And Loving It.avi ... depicts a nude prepubescent female repeatedly inserting a dog's penis into her mouth.
Some have claimed the incident is payback from local satanists, after Jackson held a protest of a black mass. The porn downloads, however, took place multiple times in the weeks before the protest ever took place and thus could not have been "payback."
Others continue to claim the "evidence was planted by law enforcement," alleging a state and federal conspiracy against a priest who "preaches about the Sixth Commandment." No evidence, however, has ever been offered to support this theory. Neither have advocates explained why federal authorities would target a relatively little-known priest.
Jackson is being represented by Attorney John L. Calcagni, a former federal prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney.
Jackson served as rector of the FSSP's seminary in Denton, Nebraska from 2000–2007. Before coming to Rhode Island in August, he served as parochial vicar at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Littleton, Colorado.
He was featured in Episode 1 of the trilogy Mass of the Ages, highlighting the beauties of the Traditional Latin Mass.
The diocese of Providence, under Bp. Thomas Tobin, has prohibited Jackson "from the sacred ministry and the exercise of the office of pastor" following news of his arrest.
If convicted, Jackson faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
The Department of Homeland Security is asking any tips related to this investigation to be made to (401) 734-8114.