Former Va. ACLU Head Pleads Guilty in Child Pornography Case

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 2, 2007

A former Arlington County youth sports coach who once headed the Virginia ACLU pleaded guilty yesterday to charges that he purchased child pornography so graphic that prosecutors called it "sadistic."

Charles Rust-Tierney, 51, admitted that he accessed more than 850 pornographic images of children as young as 4, including a six-minute video depicting the sexual torture of children set to a song by the band Nine Inch Nails. Authorities said Rust-Tierney used a computer in his 10-year-old son's bedroom to view the files, some of which were contained on CDs bearing an American flag logo.

His voice firm and his back ramrod straight in a green prison jumpsuit, Rust-Tierney entered his plea to one count of receipt of child pornography in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. He offered no explanation for his actions.

"So these were actual children under the age of 12 engaged in sexual activity?" Judge T.S. Ellis asked.

"I'm agreeing to that, yes, your honor," Rust-Tierney said.

"Well, is it true or not?" Ellis asked.

"Yes, it is," Rust-Tierney replied.

Rust-Tierney, a public defender in the District and a past president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Sept. 7. His attorneys and prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of 8 to 10 years.

The guilty plea brought a quiet end to a case that has triggered strong emotions locally and nationally. Rust-Tierney is a former president of Arlington Little League, and more than two dozen people, including numerous fellow lawyers, packed a federal courtroom in March to say that he should be released from jail. Parents of children he has coached wrote letters of support.

Yesterday's hearing brought a small group of supporters and family members, including Rust-Tierney's former wife, Diann, who had testified on his behalf in March. She declined to comment afterward. Rust-Tierney mouthed "thank you" to supporters as he was led away by court security officers.

The case has attracted national attention, with some critics and bloggers accusing the media of initially downplaying the story because of Rust-Tierney's ACLU connection. He was president of the board of directors of the ACLU's Virginia affiliate from 1993 to 2005 and resigned from the ACLU's board the day he was arrested in February.

An attorney for Rust-Tierney, Jonathan Shapiro, declined to comment after yesterday's hearing.

Law enforcement officials said Rust-Tierney had coached baseball, soccer and football since about 2003, usually his son's teams.

A graduate of George Washington University Law School, Rust-Tierney worked at an Alexandria civil rights law firm before joining the D.C. Public Defender Service in 1990. Since then, he has worked exclusively with mentally ill clients.

An official at the Public Defender Service did not return telephone calls yesterday.

Prosecutors said yesterday that they had identified at least 30 child pornography victims shown in the images and videos Rust-Tierney downloaded and that the images were created in places ranging from England and Texas to Scranton, Pa. Rust-Tierney used his credit card to purchase the images from child pornography Web sites on at least five occasions, spending about $420.

At one point, court documents said, Rust-Tierney e-mailed the operators of a Web site requesting free access to a child pornography video normally sold separately for $100. The Web site operators e-mailed back with a link to the video.

Rust-Tierney's plea agreement with prosecutors said the images he downloaded showed "sadistic or masochistic conduct."

U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa C. Buchanan, who declined to release Rust-Tierney at the hearing in March, had described the material on the computer as "the most perverted and nauseating and sickening type of child pornography" she has seen in 10 years on the bench.

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