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Court tosses Arizona man's child-porn conviction

JACKSON, Miss. -- A federal appeals court has thrown out the conviction of an Arizona man for bringing child pornography into Mississippi.

Gregory Edward Vernon of Florence, Ariz., was sentenced to more than 33 years in 2012 in U.S. District Court in Oxford, Miss. The sentence was to run consecutive to a 13-year sentence he received in Arizona for sexual exploitation of a minor and dangerous crime against a child.

However, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that a search of Vernon's car -- which resulted in the discovery of a computer that prosecutors said had pictures of child pornography -- did not follow U.S. Marshals Service rules.

The panel said the evidence should not have been used against Vernon in his Mississippi trial.

Vernon was arrested by U.S. marshals at a casino in Tunica County, Miss., on a 2006 warrant from Arizona. When Vernon's car was found in the parking lot, he refused to allow it to be searched.

The car was taken to the Tunica County sheriff's impound lot where it was searched by county deputies while marshals watched. Marshal Christopher Kruse testified the search conducted by the deputies did not comply with USMS' inventory search policy.

The 5th Circuit panel said it didn't matter what kind of policy Tunica County had about searching the impounded car because the only issued raised a Vernon's trial was about the USMS' policy.

"We need not decide whether inadequate evidence presented at a suppression hearing can be remedied at a later trial because here no evidence of any kind concerning Tunica County policy was presented at any point before the district court entered judgment. Accordingly, we may only consider the fact that the USMS had a policy with which Kruse admittedly did not comply.

"Since the laptop was the primary evidence against Vernon, it cannot reasonably be claimed that this error was 'harmless,' " the panel said.

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