FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Former 19 Kids and Counting reality star Josh Duggar downloaded images and video on a work computer of children as young as 7 years old being “abused,” “violated,” and “exploited,” federal prosecutors said in opening statements on Wednesday.
The jury heard graphic descriptions on Wednesday of the materials from prosecutors, while Duggar’s defense maintained the 33-year-old didn’t have the technical knowledge to discreetly browse the illegal content found on the computer. Duggar, the oldest child of his famous fundamentalist Christian family, was arrested in Arkansas in April and charged with “knowingly” receiving and possessing child sexual abuse materials. He pleaded not guilty on both counts. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count if he is convicted.
“Hold him accountable,” US Assistant Attorney Dustin Roberts said Wednesday in his opening statement, looking at the jury and pointing at Duggar, who appeared in court but did not speak. His wife, Anna Duggar, sat in the gallery.
According to prosecutors, Duggar used a device that virtually “split” his HP desktop work computer into “two independent sides,” allowing him to use the computer at the used car dealership’s “shed-like” office for usual business purposes on one side while browsing illegal content on the other.
In one case, Duggar downloaded a series of images titled “Marissa.zip” which featured a girl about 8 years old exposing her genitals before eventually being put in a cage, Roberts said.
Defense attorney Justin Gelfand argued that Duggar didn’t have the knowledge to install the sophisticated software found on his work computer. He suggested someone else was responsible, describing the case as an “old-fashioned whodunit.”
The defense also blamed government investigators for moving slowly to investigate the illegal activity — which law enforcement software detected in May 2019 but was not flagged by officials until June 2019. According to the defense, law enforcement unfairly associated the activity with Duggar before exploring all other potential avenues, such as his coworkers.
The first witness for the prosecution was Detective Amber Kalmer, who first began to investigate the child sexual abuse activity in June 2019.
She testified on Wednesday that she was able to download portions of the content recorded by her surveillance software. One video she saw contained “two prepubescent females, zoomed in on their vaginal areas, being penetrated by an adult man’s penis,” she said. Kalmer added she was also able to view images of nude young girls with a “focus on the vaginal area.” There were 65 images.
When she first reviewed the content in June 2019, she told the court she didn’t assume the activity was associated with any particular individual — she only had an IP address in Springdale, Arkansas, and alerted a law enforcement colleague there, who agreed to start an investigation. Law enforcement were able to ask the internet service provider who was connected with the specific IP address, leading them to Duggar, she said.
Federal officials seized Duggar’s iPhone, MacBook, and HP desktop computer at the dealership, among other devices, via search warrant in November 2019. The devices were sent to Washington, DC, for review, prosecutors said, and investigators found that Duggar used what is known as a peer-to-peer network on his desktop computer at his business, Wholesale Motorcars.
These networks involve devices connecting directly to other computers or servers, which allows for easy exchange of files to download or share. These systems are known by law enforcement to be a common way child sexual abuse material is distributed, prosecutors said.
On Wednesday, Homeland Security Investigator Gerald Faulkner testified that he received files from Kalmer in June 2019 and, after obtaining information from internet service provider OzarksGo, went on to obtain the search warrant for Wholesale Motorcars. Duggar, one employee, and one customer were present on the car lot on Nov. 8, 2019, and when agents arrived, they told him only that they were seeking “evidential” items that could contain “digital contraband” and confiscated his phone.
About 15 minutes later, Faulkner and another agent approached Duggar again to come to their vehicle to discuss the search warrant — which he still had not been told had to do with child sexual abuse materials, prosecutors noted.
Once in the vehicle, Faulkner said Duggar asked them, “So what guys, someone downloading child porn?”
Agents then read Duggar his Miranda rights and asked for consent to record their conversation. Three excerpts of the 51-minute conversation were played in court on Wednesday. The conversation was practically friendly: the three men laughed at points, and Duggar sounded calm. He expressed understanding, “respect,” and gratitude at multiple points to the agents for their work in law enforcement.
In one clip, Duggar confirmed OzarksGo was his internet provider and that his iPhone, MacBook, and HP desktop were the three devices on the car lot in addition to two surveillance cameras and a few thumb drives. He said these devices had passwords but that his wife and children frequently access his devices.
In another, the agents asked whether Duggar is familiar with peer-to-peer networks. Duggar said he was and that he had used these networks on all three of his devices.
In another clip, the agents finally told Duggar they work to protect children from exploitation, to which he thanked the agents for their work.
He then asked, “Is that what you’re saying is going on?”
The officers replied there’s “pieces to the puzzle that might save children” present at the car lot.
“Did something happen on my devices...Did it mark this IP address?” Duggar asked, adding he’s seen no “red flags” that would alert him of something like child sexual exploitation material being downloaded at his business.
In the third clip, the agents told Duggar they had information pointing out that someone at the property had been downloading illegal content.
“We don’t want to speculate,” one told Duggar, adding they want to figure out how the car lot became linked to the illegal downloads on a peer-to-peer program.
“Appreciate what you guys do,” Duggar replied. “I don’t want to say that I’m guilty or not of accessing inappropriate content at some point of my life.”
Duggar was released from jail in May after a virtual federal detention hearing and ordered to stay with third-party custodians, LaCount and Maria Reber, who are family friends. The court mandated that he not view or possess any pornography or erotica “of any kind,” nor is he permitted to access the internet on any kind of device. He has to wear a GPS monitoring device and is only permitted to see his children in the presence of their mother — although contact with any other minor is prohibited, according to court records.
The trial comes just days after his wife announced the birth of their seventh child on Nov. 16. His father, Jim Bob Duggar, also recently announced he is running for Arkansas state Senate. He and his wife, Michelle Duggar, have called the allegations against their son “very serious” and “continue to pray” for Josh and Anna’s family.
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who became famous for their large household and ultraconservative beliefs via the TLC reality show and spinoffs, admitted in a 2015 Fox News interview that Josh Duggar had molested five girls when he was a teenager, including his four younger sisters and a family babysitter. In the interview, they said he and the girls received counseling and the family did not believe there was any future threat of wrongdoing; in their view, he had only been “curious about girls.”
Duggar apologized in a May 2015 statement to People magazine, saying, “Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends.”
In an evidentiary hearing Monday, Duggar’s lawyers argued testimony from Jim Bob Duggar as well as the parents of a girl Josh Duggar is accused of molesting, should be kept confidential during the trial under “clergy privilege” — meaning they should be exempt because they are church leaders.
“The clergy privilege — also referred to as the priest-penitent privilege or the religious privilege — is a firmly rooted privilege that shields certain communications from disclosure,” Duggar’s lawyers said in a brief filed Tuesday.
The judge on Wednesday denied that motion and allowed prosecutors to show the jury evidence of Duggar's prior child molestation.
Correction: A zip file that Duggar allegedly downloaded comprised a series of still photos of a child being sexually abused. A previous version of this story said that it was a video.