CLEARFIELD – A jury deliberated for approximately a half-hour Thursday before finding an area man not guilty of possession of child pornography in Clearfield County Court.
Justin D. Tipton, 27, of Luthersburg was found not guilty on charges of child pornography and criminal use of communication facility, both felonies of the third-degree.
District Attorney Ryan Sayers prosecuted the case for the commonwealth. Tipton was represented by defense attorney Joe Ryan of Reynoldsville.
According to testimony from Cpl. Bernard Novak of the Pennsylvania State Police Northwest Computer Crime Unit, the investigation began following multiple cyber tips.
He said the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) received two related tips from the Facebook Law Enforcement Records Department, which he traced to Luthersburg and subsequently turned over to DuBois-based state police.
The first video upload reportedly occurred on Jan. 11, 2019 while the second reportedly occurred on May 13, 2019, according to court documents.
Later Novak said he got a third high-priority NCMEC tip with chat messages from Sept. 21, 2020 through Sept. 23, 2020 in which both chat users allegedly admitted to liking minor children.
Tipton’s name didn’t appear in the social media account information provided to state police, but Novak said it was associated with an Internet Protocol (IP) address at his home.
PSP Cpl. Jared Wolff said on Sept. 23, 2020, investigators executed a search warrant at Tipton’s residence, which resulted in the seizure of two LG smart phones and two Amazon Kindle tablets.
Following the search, Wolff said he interviewed Tipton—who when asked twice—indicated “to his knowledge,” they “shouldn’t” find anything inappropriate or illegal.
The four devices were sent out the next day to the PSP Northwest Computer Crime Laboratory for analysis by PSP Digital Forensic Examiner Fernando Hernandez.
Hernandez testified to the findings of his report, from November 2020, including the discovery of three child pornography images on one of Tipton’s smart phones.
He said the images were thumbnail images, or a smaller representation of a larger image, and located in a “hidden” folder that most cell phone users have no knowledge of.
Because they were only thumbnail images, he was unable to provide specifics as to the origin of the images like where they came from, how they got there or who put them there.
Hernandez—when specifically asked by Ryan under cross-examination—indicated his cell phone extraction didn’t uncover the two videos or chat messages that were the basis of this investigation.
Tipton also took the witness stand in his own defense, telling jurors he’d never observed the images until trial and only had that refurbished LG phone for about a year when he was made aware of the allegations.
At the time, he lived with several others, all of whom had access and permission to use his device. Living in a rural area, they also had an unsecured internet connection, he said.
Tipton did admit he’s viewed pornography but said this was several years before the allegations and it didn’t depict children.
In closing, Ryan argued that the commonwealth prosecuted the wrong perpetrator, which made it “scary” to think about because “the real perpetrator is still out there.”
Sayers asked jurors to use their common sense because it was actually more logical to believe Tipton had possessed the original images but deleted them from the device.
Court documents indicate Tipton had agreed to plead guilty to the child pornography charge in May 2022 but withdrew that plea during an August 2022 session of sentencing court because a five-month sentence was not satisfactory to the court, and Tipton wouldn’t agree to additional time.