GONZALES — Law enforcement officers found former Sorrento Mayor Wilson Longanecker Jr. in his upstairs bedroom closet last month when they began searching his house for evidence of child pornography, a state investigator testified Monday.
Ashley Borel, who works in the state attorney general’s Cyber Crime Unit, testified Longanecker’s laptop hard drive and two flash drives, which contained 40 child pornography videos and one image of child pornography, were later found in a locked safe inside that closet.
Longanecker, whose second-floor bedroom window has a sight line of the nearby church parking lot where investigators gathered before the search early Oct. 23, refused to give the combination to the safe, which had been his father’s.
Borel testified that Longanecker’s father later provided it to investigators. But they still have been not been able to get the password to the defendant’s cellphone. He has refused to provide the code, Borel testified.
Judge Jessie LeBlanc, of the 23rd Judicial District, on Monday cited Longanecker’s lack of cooperation and attempts to hide possible evidence as one of the reasons she rejected Longanecker’s bid to lower his bail. Longanecker’s attorneys had asked the judge to reduce his bail from just over $1 million to $100,000.
LeBlanc also cited the weight and seriousness of the allegations against the former mayor and town councilman.
Also on Monday, prosecutors filed a bill of information against Longanecker charging him in the child pornography case. Assistant District Attorney Robin O’Bannon said prosecutors added three more counts against Longanecker, who now faces 43 counts of possessing child pornography and one count of obstruction of justice.
His arraignment is set for Dec. 15.
Before LeBlanc’s ruling, defense attorney Timothy Pujol argued to the judge that bail is not designed to punish those accused of crime but to ensure they show up for court. He said Longanecker’s family could not afford the current bail amount or even a reduced level of $500,000 or $250,000.
“For all practical purposes, we are sentencing him to jail without a trial” if the bail isn’t reduced, Pujol said.
O’Bannon countered that the court also has to take into account the seriousness and weight of the allegations against the defendant.
She argued the children in the videos “were abused in the most vile way for his pleasure.”
LeBlanc denied Longanecker’s bail reduction request after hearing those arguments and having listened to Borel briefly describe 16 of the videos found on the hard drive and flash drives.
The videos Borel described were of young girls, who ranged in age from 3 to 10, engaged in various sexual acts.
Longanecker, 41, the son of former two-term town Mayor Wilson Longanecker Sr., was mayor himself from mid-2011 to mid-2013. At the end of a term filled with controversy, Longanecker Jr. did not seek re-election but opted for a failed bid to regain an at-large seat on the Town Council.
Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit with his hands handcuffed to his belt, Longanecker shot a quick, restrained smile to acknowledge his parents’ presence shortly after being led into the courtroom Monday at the parish Courthouse Annex in Gonzales.
O’Bannon was prepared in the hearing to have Borel describe more than 16 of the videos that investigators say were found in the locked safe. But after Borel described the 15th, Pujol, who had earlier objected to going through descriptions of the videos at all, objected again, saying the testimony was redundant. “He’s the one with the 40 videos,” O’Bannon shot back, referring to Longanecker.
But LeBlanc sustained Pujol’s objection after O’Bannon agreed that most of the other videos contained the same kind of acts as what had been testified to already. The investigator was allowed to describe one more that O’Bannon contended was different from the others.
Through questions on cross-examination with Pujol, Borel acknowledged that there is no evidence that Longanecker viewed the videos, produced the videos or shared the videos.
But the investigator added that a forensic examiner would have to check the videos to see if Longanecker viewed them and that Longanecker had obtained the video through file-sharing software.
To open the hearing Monday, Longanecker’s father testified on his behalf, noting that his son was born in Ascension Parish, had lived in the parish almost his entire life and had several businesses in the parish.
Longanecker Sr. said that, if released, his son would live with him and his wife in Sorrento and the family would use the equity from his home, his son’s home and businesses they share to pay Longanecker’s bail if it were reduced.
The father said he would ensure his son would show up for court and for ongoing psychiatric treatments, saying his son would not put his family in jeopardy by fleeing his bond obligations. Longanecker Sr. said he and his wife have cared for his grandchildren several days per week since the arrest and they want to see their father.
Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.