Prison Time For Viewing Porn?
A Teenage Boy Faces Decades in Prison For Visiting Sexually Explicit Web
Sites -- But Was It Really Someone Else?
Sixteen-year-old Matthew Bandy was about as normal a teenager as you
could find. He actually liked hanging out with his family.
"He was a happy-go-lucky kid," said his mother, Jeannie Bandy. "Very
personable, and big-hearted. I sound like a boastful mom, but I guess
the biggest thing is that he could always make me laugh."
"We went on vacations and had a lot of fun together," Matthew said. "I
just enjoyed the life I was living. But after I was accused,
What was Matthew Bandy accused of? Jeannie and Greg Bandy were shocked
to discover that their son was charged with possession of child
One December morning two years ago, Matthew's life took a dramatic
turn. In an exclusive interview with "20/20," the Bandy family
reveals how the world as they knew it came crumbling down, and how
Matthew's life has since changed.
A Family Shattered
It has been two years since police officers stood at the doorstep of
the Bandy home with a search warrant bearing a devastating charge --
possession of child pornography.
"It was 6 a.m. It was still dark -- there was this pounding at the door,"
Jeannie Bandy said. "I was petrified."
Police officers stormed into the house with guns pointed. "The first
thing I thought was, someone's trying to break in our house," Matthew
said. "And then there [were] police officers with guns pointed at me,
telling me to get downstairs."
Greg Bandy was handed the search warrant and informed that the central
suspect was Matthew. According to the warrant, nine images of young
girls in suggestive poses were found on the Bandy family computer.
Yahoo monitors chat rooms for suspicious content and reported that
child porn was uploaded from the computer at the Bandys' home address.
But was Yahoo correct on this assumption?
"When they asked me have you ever looked up or uploaded or downloaded
erotic images of minors, I was just taken aback and I said, 'No,'" says
Nevertheless, Matthew did have an embarrassing confession. He had been
sneaking peaks at adult erotic photos on the family computer. "I got the
Web site from a bunch of friends at school. [It was] just adult
pornography - Playboy-like images."
Difficult to admit, but not illegal -- or so it seemed. Still, it
didn't look good for Matt, as police confiscated the computer and left
the house that December day. A family was shattered.
"I still remember when they were cleaning up and leaving and of course
I was still in my pajamas and my bathrobe and my fuzzy slippers,"
Jeannie Bandy said. "I said, 'What do we do now? Should I contact a
lawyer?' [The police officer] said, 'Well, they are felonies that the
state takes very serious.'"
The Bandys would soon find out just how serious the charges against
Matthew were. The family hired Ed Novak, a well-respected attorney
from a large law firm in downtown Phoenix.
"20/20" correspondent Jim Avila asked Novak what the family was up
"We faced 10 years per count, there were nine counts," said Novak. "If
Matt was convicted, those sentences would have to be served
consecutively. In other words, he would have been sentenced to 90
years in prison. He would have served time until he died."
Greg and Jeannie Bandy knew their son well. They were shocked at the
serious charges against him and frightened by the prospect of such a
"He's never done any drugs," Greg said. "He never drank a drop of
alcohol. He's never been a problem, never stayed out late and gotten
into trouble or anything like that."
A Sex Offender?
Arizona child pornography laws are among the harshest in the
country. As soon as Matthew was charged, he was put on virtual house
arrest, and an electronic bracelet was attached to his ankle to
monitor his movements 24 hours a day.
"It was just terrifying. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't
know why it was happening," Matthew recalled.
Matthew was in an awful predicament, and he tried to keep his house
arrest a secret. He wore longer pants to hide the ankle bracelet, but
he was scared he would be discovered.
"Yes, I was very scared," he said. "If they found out that I was
wearing an ankle bracelet all of a sudden they would be wondering, why
are you wearing that? And I had no good answer for them."
The shy young boy could not explain how such pictures appeared on his
computer hard drive. The stress of the situation got so bad for
Matthew that he told his parents the charges hanging over his head
made high school impossible.
"He said 'Mom, I'm hurting,'" said Jeannie. "'I can't sleep. I don't
want to disappoint anybody, but I just can't go on anymore.'"
Matt's dreams had been destroyed and his mother was crushed. And even
though there was no proof that Matthew personally downloaded those
nine pictures, it would be difficult to prove his innocence. Novak
said that the pictures alone were practically all the evidence the
police needed, or so the police claimed.
"I thought his chances of winning were probably 20 percent," said
Novak. "They didn't care that I denied it," Matthew said. "They just
kept on asking me and kept on thinking that I did it. They just had it
built into their mind that this kid is guilty."
What is so frightening about Matt's case? It could happen to anyone.
"The computer had accessed a 'Yahoo' account where there was child
pornography," Andrew Thomas, Maricopa County district attorney said.
"That was the basis for the search warrants issued by a court."
Yet, the evidence submitted by the Phoenix police department did not
identify a specific user. Matt's clean reputation, his good grades and
protective family could not stand up to the cold fact that child porn
was on that computer. The police and the district attorney had the
incriminating photos from the Bandys' computer and the prosecutors
were determined to send Matt away.
A Family Fights Back
Matthew Bandy found himself outmatched in the national campaign
against child pornography -- harsh laws designed to keep track of
pedophiles and punish them severely.
"They didn't care that I denied it, they just kept on asking me and
kept on thinking that I did it," he said. "They just had it built in
their mind that this kid is guilty, and we're going to make sure that
he's convicted. No matter what the means are."
The Bandy family contends that Thomas was on a mission and that his
desire to convict was so strong that he ignored important evidence --
like the fact that Matthew passed a lie detector test. The fact that
the test indicated that Matt was telling the truth wasn't taken into
And that's when the Bandy family really began to fight back. They
hired two polygraph examiners who confirmed Matthew was telling the
truth. Then they ordered two psychiatric evaluations which concluded
that Matthew had no perverted tendencies.
ABC's Jim Avila asked Thomas about the results of the lie detectors
tests and Matt's psychiatric evaluations.
"Quite frankly, criminal defendants are not famous for being forthcoming
with the facts," Thomas explained. "I'm not a big believer in polygraph
tests. And certainly, they're not admissible in court. At the end of the
day, we certainly felt there was a good faith reason to go forward
with the prosecution."
Despite the positive polygraphs and psychiatric exams, the district
attorney pressed on. So the Bandys and their attorney tackled the most
difficult question on the table. If Matthew didn't put the pictures on
the computer, how did they get there?
For that answer, they turned to computer forensic expert Tammi Loehrs.
"If you have an Internet connection, high speed, through, let's say,
your cable company, or through the phone company, that computer is
always on, and basically you have an open doorway to the outside,"
Loehrs said. "So the home user has no idea who's coming into their
Loehrs went into the Bandys' computer and what she found could
frighten any parent -- more than 200 infected files, so-called
backdoors that allowed hackers to access the family computer from
remote locations, no where near Matthew's house.
"They could be on your computer and you'd never know it," she said.
Loehrs says she does not believe that Matthew uploaded those images
onto his computer "based on everything I know and everything I've seen
on that hard drive."
But police still had those pictures, and the harsh child porn laws
made going to court risky for Matthew.
"All the jury would know is that there were these images on the
computer," Matthew said. "And here's me sitting in the courtroom --
let's blame him because he was on the computer, obviously he did it."
'We Had No Faith'
Even if he was only convicted on one count, Matthew would have faced
10 years in jail, and have his "life ruined," said Novak.
"We had no faith," said Jeannie Bandy. "Our lawyers had no faith. We
were told he more than likely would end up in jail."
So the Bandys took a deal from the prosecution. In exchange for
dropping all counts of child pornography, Matthew pleaded guilty to
the strange charge of distributing obscene materials to minors -- a
"Playboy" magazine to his classmates.
"To be precise, he was charged with showing [a Playboy magazine to
other 16-year-olds] before school, at lunch and after school," Greg
But the Bandy family nightmare was not over. While the prosecution
deal offered no jail time for Matthew, he would still be labeled a sex
offender. Under Arizona law and in most states around the country, sex
crimes carry with them a life of branding. Matthew would be forced to
register as a sex offender everywhere he lived, for the rest of his
"I have to stay away from children," said Matthew. "I cannot be around
any area where there might be minors, including the mall, or the
movies, or restaurants or even church. To go to church I have to have
written consent from our priest, I have to sit in a different pew, one
that doesn't have a child sitting in it."
'Computers Are Not Safe'
The judge couldn't believe the prosecution was insisting on sex
offender status and invited Matthew to appeal. "20/20" was there when
two years of fear and misery finally ended. A message arrived from the
judge, ironically on the computer, informing them that Matthew would
not be labeled a sex offender. Matt and his parents had won his life
In the den of the Bandy home sits the family computer, now unplugged
from the Internet. The Bandys learned that, for them, the Web is simply
"It means that computers are not safe," said Jeannie. "I don't want to
have one in my house. Under even under the strictest rules and the
strictest security, your computer is vulnerable."
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