Porn Free

Why tough-talking county prosecutors freed a man facing 48 years in prison on a kiddie porn conviction

"Not only is Mr. Virzi quite an unlikely candidate to be aroused by child pornography," Potts wrote, "his rigidity would have to crumble almost to the point of psychosis for him to act on aberrant sexual impulses that may or may not be present."

But prosecutor JoAnn Garcia wasn't biting. She filed a sharp response to a defense request for a new trial.

"If the State proved that [Virzi] knew what was contained on the tapes even without looking at the videos," she wrote, "and he still purchased the videotapes, the State met its burden. . . . There was not, even to the slightest degree, any evidence to justify [Virzi's] actions."

Hirsh realized Garcia posed a stumbling block. He says of the prosecutor, "That woman's got serious problems doing what's right and fair. I had to appeal to common sense."

So Hirsh went over Garcia's head, making his pitch to sex-crimes chief Cindi Nannetti and her supervisor, special-crimes chief Bill Culbertson.

Culbertson is widely considered one of Rick Romley's more sycophantic aides, a micromanager who takes pains to protect his boss from negative publicity. The odds of him okaying a deal after a kiddie porn conviction seemed long.

But he did.
"I thought Culbertson was very open-minded and receptive, which you don't always see in prosecutors," Hirsh says. "It wasn't a sweetheart deal with a, quote, big-shot lawyer."

(Culbertson didn't respond to requests for comment.)
Virzi caught another break in that Judge O'Melia had expressed deep concern about having to impose a 48-year prison sentence in this case.

"I told the lawyers that justice hadn't been done with this verdict," O'Melia recalls. "Not that the jury had done anything wrong--they were following the law. But even the prosecution thought at the start that a year or so in jail was enough, plus lifetime probation. The difference between that and 48 years served was an obvious cause for concern."

JoAnn Garcia asked her supervisors to be taken off the case as negotiations continued between Hirsh and office honchos.

"I explained to all that there was no basis for a motion for a new trial," Garcia wrote chief deputy county attorney Paul Ahler in her July 8 memo appealing her annual evaluation.

"What I did know some two and a half years after Virzi was initially charged with multiple counts of sexual exploitation of a minor was that the jury had spoken: Guilty as charged."

Over Garcia's protests, the two sides inked their deal in Judge O'Melia's courtroom on December 5, 1995.

Scott Virzi pleaded guilty to reduced charges of "attempting" to possess pornography. The judge placed him on lifetime probation, then allowed him to walk out of the courtroom a free man.

Virzi had served about six months in jail, precisely what Garcia had offered about two years earlier.

Bob Hirsh returned to Tucson to fight other fights. But, behind the scenes, trouble was brewing for County Attorney Rick Romley.

Expert witnesses such as pediatrician Kay Rauth-Farley often are pivotal to the successful prosecution of pedophiles and child pornographers.

One of her tasks as medical director of St. Joseph's Hospital's Child Abuse Assessment Center has been to review kiddie porn and then to estimate the victims' ages using a technique called Tanner Staging.

Sex-crimes prosecutors and detectives respect Dr. Rauth-Farley because she does her job well and with an upbeat attitude--no small feat in heart-wrenching cases of this nature.

Her January 5 letter to Rick Romley after Scott Virzi's plea bargain sent shock waves through the County Attorney's Office.

The doctor began by praising the prosecutors in the sex-crimes unit, with whom she's worked closely for years: "I feel they make every effort to ensure that child molesting and physical abuse against children are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as they should be."

She then got to the point, telling Romley she would be doing no more Tanner Staging testimony for his office.

"I strongly urge you to reconsider how your office disposes of child sexual exploitation cases, as I do not believe the Legislature categorized them as Dangerous Crimes Against Children for no reason."

Rauth-Farley--who did not provide the letter to New Times and wouldn't discuss it, she says, on the orders of her employers at St. Joseph's Hospital--got a prompt response from Romley's chieftains.

"Bill [Culbertson] and I met with Kay after we got the letter," says Cindi Nannetti, "and we agreed she had some absolutely valid concerns. We went from there to try to make things better for everyone involved in these cases, such as having our 'Tanner' expert look at, say, ten pornographic photos instead of hundreds. I honestly thought Kay supported what we did after she got all the facts about the case."

Nannetti says she organized a meeting of about 40 people--law enforcement types, counselors and others--to hash things over. Rauth-Farley attended the meeting, at which several sources say she reiterated what she'd written to Romley.

In recent months, JoAnn Garcia has moved from the sex-crimes unit, where she was assistant bureau chief, into the newly created Family Violence Unit.

Ironically, one case she's taken with her is the high-profile kiddie porn prosecution of Glendale's James Moore, which indicates that her supervisors still think highly of her. Kay Rauth-Farley is not listed as a potential witness in the Moore case.

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