FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The child pornography trial and eventual conviction of Josh Duggar, 33, captured the attention of Northwest Arkansas as well as readers and viewers around the globe in 2021.
The former reality TV star was arrested this spring, charged with downloading and possessing child pornography, and ultimately found guilty on both charges in December. Below is a look back at how the case transpired in 2021:
April: Duggar was arrested and placed on a federal hold with no bail. In November, 2019, Homeland Security investigators executed a search warrant at Wholesale Motorcars, Duggar’s place of employment. They seized multiple electronic devices and pieces of evidence, including one video file that Special Agent Gerald Faulkner called “in the top five of the worst of the worst that I’ve ever had to examine.”
The day after his arrest, Duggar made his first courtroom appearance and was officially charged.
May: A detention hearing was held in court and Duggar was released to designated third party custodians, family friends Lacount and Maria Reber. The terms of the release stated that Duggar would be confined to their home with GPS electronic monitoring, among many other conditions including no possession of electronics or access to the internet at any time.
June: With the trial scheduled to begin on July 6, the defense requested a continuance until February, 2022. The court found this to be an “unnecessary delay.” The trial was subsequently set for November 30.
October: Duggar’s wife, Anna, gave birth to their seventh child, Madyson Lily Duggar, on October 23.
Josh’s father, Jim Bob Duggar, announced his candidacy for Arkansas State Senate, District 7. He previously served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1999-2002.
November: Both sides filed multiple motions with the court, regarding a variety of issues including witness eligibility and relevance. Judge Timothy L. Brooks ruled that a pretrial evidentiary hearing would be necessary.
At that hearing, the judge denied defense motions that statements Duggar made to family and close friends as a minor were protected by “clergy-penitent privilege.” This allowed Bobye Holt to be added to the prosecution’s witness list.
Jury selection for the trial took place on the last day of November, with a Duggar family member somehow included in the pool of potential jurors. He was immediately excused.
December: The trial began in the Western District of Arkansas federal court in Fayetteville with opening statements by both sides on December 1. Dustin Roberts outlined the government’s case clearly and simply.
“Our case is based on fact,” he told the jury. “Evidence. And common sense.”
In contrast, defense attorney Justin Gelfand painted the case as “a classic whodunnit.”
“If you like a good mystery,” he stated to jurors during his opening, “then this is the case for you.”
Despite this claim, Gelfand and the defense were unable to submit any evidence or elicit witness testimony putting any other individual at the car lot when Duggar downloaded the illegal Child Sexual Assault Material (CSAM) in 2019.
The prosecution called ten witnesses, presenting their case in a linear fashion. They began with a Little Rock police officer and member of the Internet Crimes Against Children task force that connected with Duggar’s computer, and wrapped things up with comprehensive testimony from a Department of Justice computer forensics expert that explained, in extensive detail, the wealth of evidence provided by the prosecution that put Duggar at the scene at the exact moment that illegal CSAM was downloaded and accessed.
The most memorable witness may have been Bobye Holt, a family friend of the Duggar’s since before Josh was born. She fought through tears as she recounted the confession he made as a teen, admitting to molesting multiple minor girls.
“You don’t forget something like that,” she replied when asked about her memory of the conversation.
Prosecutor William Clayman concluded the prosecution’s examination of their forensics expert with one final, simple question.
“Who was present at the car lot every single time child pornography was downloaded?” he asked.
“Josh Duggar,” replied James Fottrell, the expert witness.
The defense called just two witnesses, including their own computer forensics expert. However, her qualifications came under scrutiny when it was revealed that she had included years as an undergraduate student in her total experience as a forensic examiner.
She also was unable to specify how many times she had testified in federal court, admitting that this trial might be her first.
The defense attempted to establish even the slightest possibility that Duggar’s office computer had been accessed remotely. But on cross-examination, Bush confirmed that she found nothing to lead her to that conclsuion.
“I did not find any evidence from what I have seen,” she replied, when asked about the presence of such evidence by Clayman.
The defense’s second and final witness was a Homeland Security Investigations task force member that was part of a team sent on an aborted search warrant execution at a residence adjacent to the car lot.
His testimony and cross-examination were both brief. He testified that the initial search warrant was not served because they were targeting Duggar’s IP address and quickly realized they were at the wrong location.
Both forensics experts were recalled as rebuttal witnesses, with the defense trying to highlight any discrepancies or inconsistencies that they could find. They also harped on the investigators’ decision not to confiscate a router present at the car lot.
Closing arguments followed six days of witness testimony. Gelfand characterized the investigators and prosecutors as “star-struck about the possibility of prosecuting Josh Duggar.”
“So blinded by that focus that they refused to look for anything else,” Gelfand said. “Everything is on the line, the stakes don’t get any higher, we ask that you find him not guilty.”
Roberts kept things simple for the jury, reminding them that “this is not a complicated case.”
“Mr. Duggar has had his day in court,” he added. “Now it’s time to hold him accountable. It’s time to convict Josh Duggar.”
Following detailed instructions from the judge, the jury left to deliberate shortly after noon on day seven. About two hours later, they asked to listen to a recorded interview with Duggar conducted by investigators just after executing the search warrant at his car lot.
The jurors had heard the entire recording, broken down into three sections, earlier in the trial. The prosecution also elected to use particularly damning elements of it in their closing argument.
So for the third time, the jury listened to Duggar discuss his knowledge of peer-to-peer file sharing software, as well as his admission that Torrent applications were present on all of his devices. He also described how he had recently reconfigured the router and network setup at his car lot.
They had not reached a verdict by 5 p.m., but needed less than two hours the following morning to reach one.
At approximately 10:02 a.m. on December 9, an agent of the court entered the courtroom and told media members and attorneys waiting in the gallery that a verdict had been reached.
Duggar was unanimously found guilty on both charges.
He was remanded into custody immediately and handcuffed by U.S. Marshals. Duggar was crying as he shared a quick moment with his wife, Anna, before he was escorted out of the courtroom.
He was transported to Washington County Detention Center. His attorney announced the defense’s intent to appeal the verdict.
Immediately following the trial, members of Duggar’s family spoke out in various press releases and social media posts.
Today, God’s grace, through the love and prayers of so many, has sustained us. Our hearts and prayers are with anyone who has ever been harmed through CSAM. In the days ahead, we will do all we can to surround our daughter-in-law Anna and their children with love and support. As parents, we will never stop praying for Joshua, and loving him, as we do all of our children. In each of life’s circumstances, we place our trust in God. He is our source of strength and refuge. Thank you for your prayers.Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, on duggarfamily.com
A post by his sister Jinger struck a very different tone. She stated that “we fear for his soul,” adding that “we are grateful for justice.”
A group of reddit users following the trial started a campaign to raise money for a local organization dedicated to helping young victims, the Children’s Safety Center of Washington County. Their efforts brought in over $20,000, as well as numerous physical items to help children and the Center.
On December 10, Josh’s sister Jana made headlines when it was revealed that she had been charged with endangering the welfare of a minor child. She has a court date set for January 10, 2022, and has downplayed the incident.
“I was certainly never arrested,” she said in a social media post. “I was just upset at myself that it had happened at all, but so thankful it all ended safely and that’s truly what mattered the most to me.”
On December 14, Jim Bob Duggar was trounced in the special election primary for the District 7 State Senate seat, finishing a distant third among Republican challengers with just 15.3% of the vote.
As the year comes to a close, Joshua Duggar remains in the Washington County Detention Center, where he shall stay until his sentencing in 2022.