FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — A family friend testified on Monday that as a teenager Josh Duggar told her he had sexually abused girls who were up to 10 years younger than him.
“You don’t forget something like that,” Bobye Holt said about how she felt learning of the former 19 Kids and Counting reality star’s alleged actions.
Years later, Duggar is standing trial after being charged with “knowingly” receiving and possessing child sexual abuse materials. He pleaded not guilty and faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count if he is convicted.
Holt told jurors that on March 30, 2003, she and her husband, former state legislator Jim Holt, were called to the Duggars’ home, where Josh, then 15, admitted that since the time he was 12, he had touched four underage girls on their breasts, vaginal areas, and sometimes under their clothes. This occurred in some cases when he had a girl on his lap during Bible time or while the girls were sleeping, Bobye Holt said.
About two years later, Duggar traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas, with the Holts, where he spent time with the family and frequently came to them to “get things off his mind,” she told US Assistant Attorney Carly Marshall.
One day during the extended stay in 2005, Holt stayed up late talking to Duggar, which is when she told jurors he “confessed” to touching and penetrating with a finger the vagina of a 5-year-old girl.
Duggar is not charged for the events Holt discussed, and the jury must decide unanimously whether to use her testimony as evidence in the current child sexual abuse case.
The trial for Duggar, who gained widespread fame and a conservative following for his time on TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, which tracked the ever-expanding family of his parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, is expected to wrap up this week. Other family members present at the US District Court of Western Arkansas on Monday included Duggar’s wife, Anna, and Derrick Dillard, the husband of Duggar’s estranged sister, Jill, who is expected to testify.
Jim Holt also testified Monday, speaking to Duggar’s computer expertise. The defense has argued that Duggar’s lack of computer understanding would have prevented him from installing and understanding the technology that prosecutors say he used to download and view child sexual abuse materials.
But Holt recalled a conversation at a campaign event in 2010 with Duggar and their friend Clint Branham, who also testified Monday.
Holt told prosecutors he had “no doubt” that during the conversation Duggar asked how to set up a computer feature known as a Linux partition, which essentially divides one computer into independent sides. Branham and Duggar discussed the partition in the context of setting up multiple operating systems in order to bypass any filtering software that controls what a user can do.
“How would I set that up?” Branham said Duggar asked him, describing the former reality TV star as a computer “power user” with more advanced knowledge of technology than the average person. That description is in opposition to the defense’s argument that with only a general education degree, Duggar would have never known how to set up a sophisticated way to view explicit content.
After prosecutors rested their case on Monday, the defense called its first witness, digital forensic expert Michele Bush, who answered questions about her examination of Duggar’s devices. Bush was provided forensic images of Duggar’s iPhone 11, MacBook Pro, and various storage devices and found “no evidence” of child sexual abuse material on them, she said.
But she corroborated the prosecution’s findings involving the presence of a Linux partition on the desktop and anonymous browsers on that “side” of the computer. She also supported the prosecution’s conclusion that child sexual abuse content had been on that computer at some point.
However, she also raised a few differences, too. Bush said she noticed a thumb drive had been plugged into the HP’s Windows’ side on May 13, 2019, the same day the Linux partition was installed. Bush testified that details about the files on the thumb drive meant the HP could potentially be part of a “network” of devices sharing content. This thumb drive was not seized by law enforcement or investigated.
Her review also showed that a “universal plug-and-play” was enabled on the HP, a feature that is designed to help devices readily connect to the internet, but that can leave connections vulnerable. The defense could consider, she added, that someone may have accessed the computer remotely given the thumb drive and internet access settings.
Throughout Bush’s direct questioning, defense attorney Justin Gelfand repeatedly asked whether her analysis of the HP pointed to the potential of remote access.
“I can’t rule out remote access,” she said, citing the presence of the plug-and-play, as well as the immediate deletion (within a matter of seconds) of one of the illicit files as soon as it was viewed. She also noted that the child sexual abuse files were never double-clicked, but streamed, which is another possible linkage to remote access.
On her own, Bush recreated Duggar’s work computer using the same machine and software to investigate how he would have set up and accessed a Linux partition, installed anonymous browsers, and potentially viewed illicit content.
Her testimony comes after James Fottrell, a top forensics investigator at the Department of Justice who specializes in fighting child exploitation, told the court last week that his examination of the HP and other devices concluded Duggar was present at Wholesale Motorcars at the same time child sexual abuse material was downloaded and viewed.
Fottrell testified that text messages and photos in the backup of Duggar’s old iPhone 8 show he was at work at the same time a trail of child sexual abuse content within the office computer is evident. He also cited Duggar’s widespread use of the unique password he used for Linux and the creation of bookmarks linking the “dark web” while he was known to be at the car lot.
When asked about the remote access possibility, Fottrell said it was possible, but the “pattern” he saw makes it seem unlikely. That’s because someone would have had to be present at the car lot to operate the Linux partition and physically tell the computer which “side” of the device they want to access, he said.
On multiple occasions, the defense highlighted the fact that authorities did not seize the business’s router, which Bush said would have been the “best source of evidence” to determine if remote access was a factor.
Fottrell argued that when the search warrant was executed, law enforcement did not seize the router because it would not “alter the conclusion that someone downloaded child sexual abuse material on [the HP].”