FAYETTEVILLE, Arkansas — Former 19 Kids and Counting reality TV star Josh Duggar on Thursday was found guilty of receiving and possessing child sexual abuse materials.
Duggar was immediately handcuffed after the verdict was read and appeared emotional as he was led out of court. He stopped to speak to his wife, Anna, who stood in the front row of the gallery among other family members who put their arms around each other and hugged.
The verdict is the latest fall from grace 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. Their large household and ultraconservative beliefs also led to spinoffs.
Duggar now faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count. He's expected to be sentenced in several months.
"Today was difficult for our family," the Duggar family said in a statement. "Our hearts go out to the victims of child abuse or any kind of exploitation. We are thankful for the hard work of law enforcement, including investigators, forensic analysts, prosecutors, and all others involved who save kids and hold accountable those responsible for their abuse.
"Nobody is above the law. It applies equally to everybody, no matter your wealth, status, associations, gender, race, or any other factor. Today, the people of the Western District of Arkansas made that clear in their verdict."
Duggar, 33, was indicted and arrested in April 2021 before he was released on the order that he stay at a third-party residence without contact with minors except his own children.
Prosecutors said Duggar downloaded video footage and images of children as young as 7 years old being “violated,” “abused,” and “exploited.” Some content involved videos of minors engaging in sexually explicit acts.
“We respect the jury’s verdict and we look forward to continuing this fight on appeal,” defense attorney Justin Gelfand said outside the courthouse. He added that they plan to appeal “at the appropriate time.”
US Assistant Attorney Dustin Roberts said the prosecution was “not surprised” when the defense chose on Tuesday not to call other witnesses that had been slated to testify.
“The entire case was made up on the premise that … given a reasonable view of the evidence, there could not be any other conclusion than Josh Duggar did this,” Roberts said, adding the defense took portions of the evidence and “tried to exploit it as far as they possibly could.”
He added that the defense's argument about remote access lacked the ability to explain the totality of events presented to the jury.
The defense had argued that a remote user accessed Duggar’s work computer and viewed illicit content. But prosecutors maintained that Duggar was in fact an advanced computer user who leveraged sophisticated software to discreetly view and delete child sexual abuse content.
The investigation into Duggar began when authorities connected downloads of child sexual abuse materials to an IP address in Springdale, Arkansas, in May 2019 — four years after a Fox News interview in which he admitted to molesting five girls when he was a teenager, including his four younger sisters and a family babysitter. In the interview, the family said he and the girls received counseling and that they did not believe there was any future threat of wrongdoing.
Last week, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Gerald Faulkner testified that he and other agents, as well as forensic analysts, executed a search warrant at Duggar’s business on Nov. 8, 2019, and seized his iPhone 11, HP desktop computer, and MacBook Pro.
On that day, Duggar talked to investigators in their vehicle. The jury heard three audio segments from that nearly hourlong conversation, during which Duggar expressed familiarity with “peer to peer” file sharing networks, anonymous browsers, and at one point asked whether their investigation was about someone downloading “child porn” — before the investigators had even mentioned the nature of their search.
“I’m not denying guilt,” Duggar told them. “I don’t want to say that I’m guilty or not of accessing inappropriate content at some point of my life.”
During deliberation, the jury asked to hear these specific audio recordings again.
James Fottrell, a top forensics investigator at the Department of Justice who specializes in fighting child exploitation, testified that he discovered a Linux partition on Duggar’s desktop HP, which essentially “splits” it into two distinct operating systems that can evade software detection programs. Someone would have needed to physically be at the desk to tell the computer to install and boot up the Linux system, Fottrell said, in addition to setting up applications that don’t come preinstalled on Linux, including anonymous browsers and a media player he found on the computer.
Fottrell said he found thumbnails in multiple folders that depicted child sexual abuse materials. In one folder, he testified that he found "multiple images of a minor girl, 8 to 10 years old" that were "very sexually explicit."
"The existence of thumbnails is evidence that full-size versions previously existed on the computer," Fottrell told the court.
He then told the court he reviewed the backup of Duggar’s old iPhone on the laptop to discern that Duggar was at the car lot at the time relevant child sexual abuse materials were downloaded and viewed.
In one case, Fottrell said he found a photo taken May 14, 2019, of a YouTube video pulled up on the HP’s desktop in the Wholesale Motorcars’ office. A reflection in the computer’s screen reveals whoever is sitting behind the keyboard is wearing a baseball cap with the Wholesale Motorcars logo. The image was taken shortly before child sexual abuse material was downloaded on the computer’s Linux partition and viewed.
Another photo taken that day shows Duggar on what seems to be a shopping trip with his wife — donning a baseball cap with the Wholesale Motorcars logo. No other employees worked at the car lot at the time in question, prosecutors said.
In another image, Fottrell said the backup showed that on May 16, a thumbnail of a nearly 30-minute video was created just two minutes before a photo of a sticky note on the desk in Wholesale Motorcars' office was taken.
“Based on [your] review, who was present at the car lot every time child pornography was downloaded?” federal prosecutor William Clayman asked.
“Josh Duggar,” Fottrell told the court last week.
But a witness for the defense, digital forensics expert Michele Bush, testified that her independent review of the same evidence showed remote access to the HP was “probable.”
She said information about the office’s internet configuration, how the explicit content was viewed, and the method used to install the partition and other applications pointed to a remote user accessing child sexual abuse content on the HP.
However, under cross-examination, Bush told Clayman that she did not factor the texts and images from the iPhone backup into her analysis.
“I think we agree on quite a bit here,” Clayman said before proceeding to ask Bush about the efficacy and methodology of her investigation. He pointed out potential discrepancies from Bush’s direct testimony she gave on Monday.
She did not testify about what she and Fottrell agreed was the “ubiquitous” password “Intel1988” Duggar used across his devices — it’s the password to the Linux partition and iterations of it can be seen in his emails and on the Notes app of his personal computer, Clayman pointed out.
The prosecution also asked why Bush did not consider reports from the anti-pornography software Covenant Eyes, which federal investigators found in Duggar’s email.
Duggar and his wife received “accountability” reports from Covenant Eyes on each other’s internet usage. The reports dated for April and May 2017 reveal multiple blocked attempts by Duggar to download the uTorrent anonymous browser, which Fottrell said was found on the Linux partition.
Bush also agreed that child sexual abuse content was on the computer at some point, answering “yes” to Clayman’s claim that “someone repeatedly downloaded child sexual abuse material on multiple occasions” and deleted the content over the course of about three days in May 2019.
Duggar’s lawyers argue that he would not have had the technical knowledge to install and use a sophisticated operating system. But on Monday, Duggar’s friend Clint Branham testified that the former reality TV star is a computer “power user” with more technological knowledge than the average person.
“No person is above the law, regardless of their status in society, regardless of their wealth, regardless of their fame,” US Attorney David Clay Fowlkes told reporters outside the courthouse on Thursday.
He added that in 2020, more than 7% of cases sentenced in western Arkansas were child abuse or child pornography cases.
“We are in this fight for the long haul,” he said.