Two found not guilty of child pornography charges

WOODSTOCK – A Shenandoah County circuit judge found a Woodstock man and his 78-year-old mother not guilty of the possession and production of child pornography.

Judge Dennis L. Hupp vindicated Daniel Frank Utley, 55, and Ethel Fahnestock Estep via bench trial following testimony from Utley, several law enforcement officers, and a worker with the Department of Social Services.

From the stand, Utley openly admitted to having filmed one, and been in the presence of his mother filming another video depicting his 2-year-old daughter partially naked mimicking sexual activities.

However, Hupp said his verdict hinged on the custody battle surrounding the videos, not their existence alone.

“It seems to me that the context in which these videos were produced and possessed has to be considered,” he said.

During his testimony, Utley said he and his mother filmed the two videos to be used as evidence of sexual abuse from the girl’s mother. He believed the girl’s mother has been engaging in sexual behaviors in front of his daughter, which she had been imitating for months.

According to testimony from Utley and Department of Social Services case worker Heather Frost, Utley and Estep turned the videos in to the department and the Woodstock police voluntarily.

Utley has been in a drawn-out custody battle with his ex-wife, the biological mother of the girl depicted in the videos. Hupp said he has presided over more than 30 cases to date among the family.

While not using the case’s findings in Friday’s trial, Hupp allowed Utley’s attorney, Brad Pollack, to cite a letter Hupp wrote regarding Utley’s ex-wife in 2014 in a civil trial.

“I believe that the mother has exposed these children to sexual conduct between her and her boyfriend, and this could certainly be emotionally harmful to the children, not to mention having an impact on their moral standards if the same continues,” the letter states.

After long, tearful embraces between Utley, Estep, and friends who sat through the trial, Utley said he’s happy the situation is behind him.

“I’m just glad it’s all over,” he said.

Although Estep did not take the stand, her attorney, Allison Neal, said she too filmed the video not out of any lewd interest, but to provide evidence in her granddaughter’s custody battle.

“She did this just to protect her grandchildren,” Neal said in her opening statement.

From across the courtroom, Louis Camplola, assistant prosecutor for the Shenandoah County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, argued that while the defendants took no sexual pleasure in filming the videos, they egged on the behavior while filming as a means of sexual exploitation to settle a score with Utley’s ex-wife and to gain custody of the children.

“What better way to get a child back, full time, than to say she’s been abused or say there has been sex going on in front of her?” Campola said in his closing argument.

He also said the videos’ existence and growing viewership in courtrooms will have a lasting effect on the child.

While Hupp did not ultimately side with Campola, he said the commonwealth’s arguments will be noted in the ongoing civil and custody battles within the same court and the Shenandoah County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Following the verdict, Campola declined to discuss the case with the Northern Virginia Daily.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com