Josh Duggar will be released from jail as he awaits trial in his felony child pornography case.
The scandal-plagued former 19 Kids and Counting star, 33, faced Judge Christy Comstock in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas on Wednesday for a detention hearing. The father of six — appearing from the Washington County Detention Center and wearing his gray-striped jail-issued jumpsuit — was arrested on April 29 on charges of receiving and possessing material depicting the sexual abuse of children and faces up to 20 years in prison for each. He has pleaded not guilty.
While the judge granted Duggar's release, effective Thursday, she said, "I'm just going to remind you how serious these charges are." She noted the evidence against him that was presented was "significant." She said the nature of the crime "concerns the court." She said his past conduct — molesting five young girls, including some of his sisters, when he was a minor teen in 2002 and 2003 —was also of concern.
Comstock also made the point that the ages of some of the children in the pornography are"close to the ages of your children" — he shares six children, ages 11 and under, with pregnant wife Anna — as well as his younger siblings.However, while she said it was a "very close call" when it came to her decision, she was letting him out with many conditions.
Per those conditions, Josh will be in home confinement, but not at his own home, nor a guest house on the property of his parents, Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar. Instead, he'll be staying with friends of his parents — a pastor and his wife. There will be electric monitoring. He's restricted to the residence at all times — except work, church, doctor's appointments, meetings with his lawyer and court appearances. And he must not possess or view pornography of any kind. He is not to use any internet capable device.
The judge did decide he can have "unlimited" visitation with his children — as long as Anna is present at the time. Josh, who lives in Springdale, Ark., is not to see any other minor children, including siblings and nieces and nephews.
As of now, his jury trial is scheduled to begin July 6 with a pre-trial conference on July 1.
Many new details about Josh's arrest emerged during the hearing. Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Gerald Faulkner, who raided Josh's used car lot where the computer was uncovered in November 2019, spoke about the dozens of images depicting nude minors and child sex abuse materials that were found on a hidden hard drive of Josh's work desktop after a forensic investigation.
Faulkner said two files initially triggered the investigation, which was first flagged by a Little Rock, Ark. police investigator in May 2019 and escalated to Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). One was a two-plus minute video of two nude, prepubescent girls engaged in sexual activity who were then sexually assaulted by an adult male. The second was a zip file of 65 images of a prepubescent female, between of age 7 and 9, nude and showing her private parts.
Faulkner wouldn't even read the names of the downloaded files, which were graphic and disturbing. He spoke about one series of videos discovered on the computer and said they are known as being “in the top five of the worst of the worst that I’ve ever had to examine.”
Prosecutors claim the illegal images show child pornography involving minors ranging from the age of 12 to as young as toddlers of 18 months.
Faulkner testified that the images were exchanged via a peer-to-peer file sharing called BitTorrent. The forensic investigation also found a program on the desktop called Covenant Eyes, which allows a user to "quit porn" by reporting to an accountability partner — in this case wife Anna — if the user visits porn sites. To get around triggering a report, Josh allegedly installed a Linux partition, which divided the computer's hard drive into two isolated sections to hide what was being viewed in one of them. He also used a TOR browser to surf the dark web. The way he accessed that part of the computer was by inputting a special password — and the one used was one Josh often used for other accounts, including for personal banking, which included his birth year in the password.
It was also noted the screensaver on the desktop allegedly used to view child porn was a photo of Josh with Anna and their children.
A day before the hearing, Josh's attorneys filed legal documents requesting he be released on bail. They argued that he's known about the investigation since HSI raided his then-business in November 2019, at which time he fully complied with turning over computers and electronic devices. After that, Josh, who has no criminal convictions, made no attempt to flee the area or country. He was actually in touch with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in connection with the investigation, and the government permitted him to voluntarily self-surrender after charges were filed against him last week, "underscoring his commitment to meet these charges and to accept and abide by any conditions of release set by this Court."
Josh's legal team further noted that his reality stardom prevents him from being a flight risk, noting, "Duggar has a widely-recognizable face and has spent the majority of his life in the public spotlight — making any concern that he is a risk of flight all the more unwarranted. As he has demonstrated for the 17 months during which he has been aware of this investigation, there is no danger of Duggar fleeing."
Josh became part of the public eye due to his parents allowing cameras to capture life with their 19 children — all of whose names begin with the letter "J." He went on to marry Anna, starting a large family of their own.
However, in 2015, the TLC show was canceled after reports surfaced he molested five girls, including some of his sisters, prior to the show when he was a teen. No charges were filed against him, but he publicly apologized for having "acted inexcusably." (Josh later sued officials in Arkansas for releasing documents related to his molestation investigation, but the case was dismissed.)
Also in 2015, Josh was named in the Ashley Madison leak and admitted to cheating on Anna while serving as a lobbyist and briefly living in Washington, D.C.
He was also sued in 2019 for real estate fraud and lost that case.
After 19 and Counting was canceled, some family members — minus Josh — have appeared in a spin-off called Counting On. However, there's been estrangement in the family, including Jill Duggar Dillard claiming she wasn't being paid to appear on the show — with her father getting the majority of the money — until she lawyered up. In March, she revealed that she hasn't visited her parents' home in "a couple of years," saying she had to prioritize her "mental health" instead.
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