A federal magistrate judge ordered a Madison man accused of sexually exploiting a 14-year-old Tennessee runaway to remain behind bars after finding Tuesday that there was probable cause to support the charge against him.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Oppeneer said he was making no judgment about whatever motives Bryan Rogers, 31, may have had when he is alleged to have persuaded the 14-year-old girl to make a video of herself being sexually assaulted by an adult, or about the likelihood of success that prosecutors would have of getting a conviction.
But he said there was enough evidence presented to him at a preliminary hearing to believe that Rogers violated a federal law by persuading the girl to make the video and then send it to him across state lines.
Rogers was charged in a criminal complaint on Feb. 4 with sexual exploitation of the girl by persuading her to capture on video herself being sexually assaulted by a man in her hometown of Madisonville, Tennessee. Rogers drove to Tennessee and picked up the girl on Jan. 14, the complaint states, and brought her to his mother’s home on Madison’s North Side, where he kept her hidden until authorities found her on Jan. 31.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Pfluger said prosecutors will present the case to a grand jury on Feb. 20, and that they are considering adding another charge, taking a minor across state lines for sexual purposes. Assuming the grand jury indicts Rogers, he will be back in court for an arraignment on Feb. 21.
As she argued that Rogers should remain in custody until his trial, Pfluger said a sexual assault examination of the girl after she was found in Rogers’ home noted evidence of recent sexual activity, estimated within three to five days of the exam, well within the time she was with Rogers.
Rogers’ lawyer, Jonas Bednarek, hotly disputed that conclusion, saying it wasn’t at all supported by the evidence.
Pfluger also contended that Rogers had clearly demonstrated his adeptness at avoiding police during his time with the girl by using cash to pay for gas, avoiding surveillance cameras and tollways and smashing the girl’s cellphone. Bednarek contended that if released, Rogers could be monitored using GPS tracking.
As for the video, Bednarek maintained that Rogers had the girl make the video strictly as evidence of sexual abuse by the adult, not as child pornography. He questioned the lead investigator in the case, state Division of Criminal Investigation Agent James Pertzborn, about whether Pertzborn was aware that Rogers and the girl had sent the video and a five-page letter written by the girl to the FBI field office in St. Louis.
That was not mentioned in an affidavit written by Pertzborn that accompanied the criminal complaint, and Pertzborn said he only became aware on Tuesday of that FBI contact, which occurred in late January.
According to a defense motion filed Monday, Rogers and the girl drove to St. Louis on Jan. 27 or 28 and mailed the video, packaged with a letter from the girl, to the FBI office there. Bednarek said in court Tuesday that the girl’s alleged hometown assailant was arrested after the FBI received and reviewed the video and letter.
Bednarek also questioned whether the girl’s letter ever mentioned that Rogers had persuaded her to make the video, and Pertzborn conceded that it hadn’t. But Pfluger objected, telling Oppeneer that the evidence of persuasion by Rogers was in text messages between Rogers and the girl that were exchanged between Dec. 24 and Jan. 13.