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Published: Thursday, 7/28/2005

Deliberations to resume in Internet child-sex trial

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury deliberated nearly five hours yesterday without reaching a verdict in the rape and pornography trial of Elissa Schuster.

The jury of four men and eight women asked Judge Ruth Ann Franks about 5 p.m. if they could go home and return today to continue deliberations.

The judge allowed them to do so but admonished the panel not to read newspapers, watch local television programming, listen to the radio, or access the Internet. "We are at an even more delicate stage in the proceeding," she said.

The trial, which began Monday, has attracted media attention because of the accusations made against Ms. Schuster in the alleged sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl and the punishment of life in prison she would face if convicted of rape.

Ms. Schuster, 24, of 7240 Nightingale Drive, Holland, is accused of sexually abusing the child, who was then 4, and sending the image and another nude photo of her via the Internet to a man in Florida, whom she believed to be an NFL player.

She is charged with rape, pandering obscenity involving a minor, and illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.

The photos were sent Aug. 29 from Ms. Schuster's computer in her former home in the 6500 block of Cornwall Court in Sylvania after she and the Florida man engaged in an instant messaging dialogue.

Ms. Schuster said in a written statement to police she took nude photos of the girl and sent them to man, with whom she had developed an online relationship a month earlier. However, she denied making sexual contact with the victim.

In closing arguments yesterday, J. Tracy Sniderhan, an assistant prosecutor, read the transcript of the 25-minute Internet dialogue to the jurors in which the man promises a ring in exchange for a photo of the sexual act.

Mr. Sniderhan said even though the defendant thought the request was crude and disgusting, she took pictures of the child, put them on the computer, and sent the images.

Sylvania police seized the defendant's computer Sept. 6 after her then-estranged husband found the instant messaging dialogue and gave it to police.

A Lucas County Children Services caseworker testified that the victim said Ms. Schuster took nude photos of her and touched her with an object. The jury also was given enlarged prints of the images that had been enhanced by an FBI crime technician.

But Frank Policelli, a criminal defense attorney representing Ms. Schuster, told jurors that the photo doesn't prove that his client raped the child because the victim's hand covered the alleged sexual contact.

Mr. Policelli of Utica, N.Y., told the jurors that if they have any doubts that Ms. Schuster made sexual contact with the child, then they must acquit her of the crime.

John Fleming, who police said received the images of the child in Tampa, was charged with possession of child pornography. He is awaiting trial.

Contact Mark Reiter at:

markreiter@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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