Jury selected, Josh Duggar child pornography trial set to begin today

FILE - This undated photo provided by the Washington County (Ark.) Jail shows Joshua Duggar. (Washington County Arkansas Jail via AP, File)
FILE - This undated photo provided by the Washington County (Ark.) Jail shows Joshua Duggar. (Washington County Arkansas Jail via AP, File)

FAYETTEVILLE -- A jury was selected in federal court to hear Josh Duggar's child pornography case Tuesday evening, and opening statements and the evidentiary portion of the trial are to begin this morning.

Duggar, 33, of Springdale is charged in federal court with two counts involving receiving and possessing child pornography. He faces up to 20 years of imprisonment and fines up to $250,000 on each count if convicted.

Members of the media weren't allowed in the courtroom during jury selection. An audio feed was connected to a downstairs courtroom where media members were allowed to listen to the proceedings in the courtroom.

At some point in the afternoon, while jurors were being questioned privately in the judge's chambers, the courtroom audio feed was turned off and was never turned back on. While the audio was off, a jury was selected and those who were in the courtroom left the building.

Cellphones, computers and other electronic devices are barred from the courthouse during Duggar's trial.

Duggar, best known for being part of his family's cable television reality show, is accused of using the internet in May 2019 to download and possess the material, some of which depicts the sexual abuse of children younger than 12, according to court documents.

Federal prosecutors have said many of the 200 or more images Duggar is accused of downloading showed children ranging from toddlers to 12-year-olds. At least three police officers downloaded file shares of child pornography from Duggar's computer, according to prosecutors.

In November 2019, reports surfaced federal authorities had served a search warrant at the address of a used-car dealership, Wholesale Motorcars, run by Duggar.

In court filings, prosecutors said Detective Amber Kalmer in Little Rock used a law enforcement tool to download files depicting the sexual abuse of children directly from Duggar's computer. The detective then sent a lead related to her undercover downloads to Special Agent Gerald Faulkner with Homeland Security Investigations, who determined the IP address was assigned to Duggar's small used-car dealership in Springdale at the time of the downloads.

Faulkner obtained a warrant to search the business. The dealership's computer and multiple electronic devices belonging to Duggar were seized. Based on forensic evidence found on those devices, among other evidence, a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment charging Duggar with receipt and possession of child pornography.

Leading up to the trial, U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks said he would allow the defense to argue others had access to the computer used to download the child pornography and to bring up those who might have done it, such as employees of the car lot.

Brooks ruled a previous statement by Duggar on social media about having a pornography addiction was inadmissible.

Still pending from a Monday hearing was whether Brooks would allow testimony Duggar sexually assaulted a girl in March 2003.

Prosecutors contend Duggar confessed the assault in 2003 to his father, former state Rep. Jim Bob Duggar, and Jim and Bobye Holt. Jim Holt is a former state senator.

Bobye Holt testified during a pretrial hearing Josh Duggar told her more details about the incident a couple of years later.

Prosecutors want Bobye Holt and, possibly, Jim Bob Duggar to testify during the trial.

The defense argued the 18-year-old allegation never resulted in charges and has no relevance to the charges Duggar faces now. They also maintain the meeting was between elders of the church the Duggars and Holts attended and that the testimony should be excluded.

"The testimony adduced by the parties at the evidentiary hearing reveals that any statements made to Bobye Holt and/or Jim Holt by Duggar or Jim Bob Duggar were made to them in their capacity as spiritual advisors with the expectation that the communications would be kept confidential," according to a brief filed Tuesday morning. "As such, any such statements are shielded from disclosure by the clergy privilege."

Jim Holt and Jim Bob Duggar were church elders of the Bible Grace Fellowship Church, a nondenominational religious institution whose services were held in its members' homes, according to the brief.

Jim Bob Duggar testified Monday he told the Holts the conversations were to be kept confidential. Bobye Holt testified the meeting was two families talking about their children.

Prosecutors argue Bobye Holt wasn't an elder because women weren't allowed to serve as leaders in the church. They also argue Duggar waived that privilege.

"Here, the defendant and his father have publicly acknowledged the details of their conversation with the Holts in press releases, other court cases, and, in the case of the defendant's father, a televised interview in which he discussed seeking the help of his friends -- the Holts -- to address the defendant's inappropriate touching of minors," according to a brief by prosecutors. "Any claim from the defendant now that he thought his admissions to Mrs. Holt were privileged has been vitiated by his and his family's face-saving press tour."

Prosecutors say the assault allegation is one part of behavior by Duggar that witnesses could testify to, including fondling of other girls dating back to autumn of 2002, according to arguments in court.