WALLA WALLA — Women who were sexually exploited by David Polk when they were teens in the mid-1980s wept with relief late Wednesday afternoon as they heard verdicts read in his child pornography trial.
Sitting in courtroom benches at the Courthouse, they heard the word “guilty” eight times.
And they were exhilarated.
Meanwhile, Polk shook his head, looked down and placed his thumbs to his lips.
His wife Nancy Polk sat stoically, staring straight ahead.
Following the two-day Superior Court trial and about an hour of deliberations, the nine-woman three-man jury convicted Polk shortly after 5 p.m. of four counts of second-degree dealing in and four counts of second-degree possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
A would-be professional photographer, he had taken nude photos of four underage teen girls nearly 30 years ago. He amassed a collection of hundreds of such pictures and slides of them and other victims who are unknown or chose not to cooperate with the investigation. For some reason he duplicated slides to computer images in November 2011.
Polk eventually got caught because in December of that year he emailed three of the nude images to a local man he just met on Facebook. Police came calling to his College Place home the following June with a search warrant.
One of the four victims who testified at the trial said in an interview after the verdicts were announced, “I am elated. I am so happy he cannot do this to anybody else. His actions had a great impact. It destroyed my relationship with my father (after he saw one of the photos).”
Such family conflicts and estrangements resulting from the poisonous relationships with Polk were recurring themes in testimony this week.
Another victim said in an interview she was very relieved at the convictions. “Because it’s done and he will never hurt me again.”
A third also expressed happiness. “I’m just glad he’s off the streets because if he was doing it 30 years ago, he didn’t quit doing it. A pedophile just doesn’t quit being a pedophile,” she said.
The Union-Bulletin is not naming the women because they are victims of sex crimes.
Polk, 55, the founder and primary moderator of a popular Facebook page called “Walla Walla Sweet Onion Burger,” is doomed to at least five years in prison when he’s sentenced in a few weeks after a presentence investigation is completed. He had no previous convictions for sex-related crimes and was out on $25,000 bail pending the outcome of his case.
But he was taken into custody Wednesday following the guilty verdicts. This morning, Judge Scott Wolfram set bail at $300,000 despite a request by defense attorney Andrea Burkhart that Polk be released on the existing bail.
“Mr. Polk is a fragile defendant,” she told Wolfram. “I’m deeply concerned about the safety of Mr. Polk in jail. He’s going to face a serious risk of physical harm.”
She helped conceal his identity from a Union-Bulletin photographer by placing her jacket over his head and holding a file folder in front of his face as he was led in and out of the courtroom today.
Polk could not be charged with sexual exploitation of a minor for actually taking the pictures back in the 1980s. Conviction of those crimes can result in 10-year prison terms. But authorities weren’t aware they were occurring and the statute of limitations ran out when the victims turned 26.
Therefore, Polk was charged and convicted of dealing in and possessing the photos in late 2011 and in 2012 when those crimes came to light.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden said in an interview he believes Wednesday’s verdicts are just, but “it’s too bad the statute of limitations has run” on sexual exploitation. “He would have gotten a lot longer (sentence).”
Walla Walla police Detective Mike Boettcher added in a separate interview, “The sexual exploitation and ruining these girls’ lives he doesn’t have to pay for.”
The prosecution rested its case Wednesday morning with testimony from Boettcher, who led the jury through intricate details of his analysis of computer hard drives seized from Polk’s home.
Then for the defense, Burkhart called Walla Walla County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jim Romine to the stand. Romine testified he was somewhat socially acquainted with Polk in the 1980s because Polk took pictures of Romine’s K-9 and helped train with the officers.
Romine acknowledged viewing some of Polk’s photos of partially clad females, but said he didn’t think the girls were underage so he wasn’t concerned.
Mark Franklin, who was a Walla Walla deputy at the time, told jurors he had seen some of the photos and knew some of the victims at the time. He testified he twice was concerned about their ages, but was assured by Polk they were 18.
Nancy Polk then took the stand and said she knew Polk’s photography had evolved from taking pictures of law enforcement activities to clothed portraits, then to nude women.
But she was not concerned, she said, because Polk made them sign contracts verifying their ages.
Such contracts were not produced as evidence in the case.
Polk did not testify.
Burkhart told jurors in her closing argument there was plenty of reasonable doubt they could ponder. She said Polk’s activities weren’t secret, he verified the ages of the women, and she pointed to discrepancies in when events reportedly occurred.
She also maintained the women, now in their 40s, understandably don’t remember when the photos were taken.
But Golden countered that the victims most certainly aren’t confused. What motivation would they have to come to court to testify? he asked the jurors.
“They get the pleasure of humiliating themselves in front of 12 strangers? Does that make any sense to you?
“It doesn’t to me.”
Terry McConn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8319.