A judge ruled Wednesday that former reality TV star Josh Duggar from TLC's "19 Kids and Counting" will be released to a third party custodian while he awaits trial on charges of receipt and possession of child pornography.
Duggar has pleaded not guilty.
During a hearing held via Zoom to determine Duggar’s detention status, U.S. District Judge Christy Comstock said she considered alleged accounts of Duggar’s previous sexual misconduct in her ruling. Judge Comstock ordered Duggar to be released May 6 under conditions set forth by the court, which include banning Duggar's use of electronic devices and requiring him to wear an electronic monitoring device. Duggar is allowed to speak to his own children only under the supervision of wife, Anna.
Comstock said any violation to the conditions of release will result in immediate arrest.
“I am concerned about the safety of the community of which Mr. Duggar has been asked to be released,” Comstock said, referencing 2015 allegations that Duggar molested four of his sisters and a babysitter. “It’s not the average defendant who can operate in the black web and partition their computer and bypass sophisticated monitoring devices. The evidence that the court has heard today is significant and frankly the victims of your crime — if you committed it — concern the court.
“You have admitted to past conduct — touching minor children — that concerns the court. I’m not telling anyone involved in this hearing, or you, something that you don’t know. What concerns me about it the most is the age of your sisters — 11, 10, 9, 5 — that concerns the court quite a lot.
“I am also greatly concerned with images and approximate ages of children in these images are very close to the ages of your children and your nephews and nieces. I keep coming back to this overriding concern that the court has about the children that you live and interact with on a daily basis and the crimes that you are charged with."
During the hearing, probation officer Diem Nguyen said it was her recommendation not to release Duggar. Nguyen pointed to conditions of release, which included a third party custodian and a residence devoid of minors. Duggar and his wife Anna are parents to six children, and Anna is expecting their seventh child, a girl, this fall.
Maria Reber and her husband, close personal friends of Josh Duggar's parents Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, volunteered to serve as Duggar's custodians and vouched for Duggar in court.
"We want to help the family and minister to them," Reber testified. "My husband has made the decision and I'm here to support that decision."
Duggar's lawyers reiterated that Duggar was born and raised in the area, and thus is not a flight risk due to "deep roots." They also argued that the Rebers could be trusted as custodians of the court.
The government emphasized the lengths Duggar went to conceal his internet activity.
During the hearing, Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Gerald Faulkner, who is assigned to federal child exploitation cases, detailed three password-protected electronic devices that were found on property owned by Duggar and obtained during a search warrant in May 2019.
Faulkner, who has worked more than 1,000 child exploitation cases in the last 11 years, testified that materials found on a computer belonging to Josh Duggar included files that were the “top five worst I’ve ever had to examine” and included child sex abuse images and videos of minors as young as 18 months.
Other files obtained from Duggar’s devices included images and videos of prepubescent females ages 7 to 9, Faulkner said.
Faulkner told the court that the devices confiscated revealed use of a network called Tor, which is a browser users can download to access the dark web and search anonymously, and makes it difficult for law enforcement to find these individuals.
Faulkner testified that a Linux partition, something that can divide a hard drive into two isolated sections, thereby creating two independent computers within one machine, was also discovered.
Law enforcement officials said they also located a program called "Covenant Eyes," internet accountability software advertised to overcome an online pornography addiction, registered to Joshua and Anna Duggar. Faulkner testified that the program provides reports to an accountability partner, which was Anna Duggar in this case.
With the use of a Linux partition, Covenant Eyes would not work properly to report internet activity, Faulkner said.
Duggar attended the hearing via Zoom, smiling and wearing a gray and black prison jumpsuit and headphones. He appeared to be in a white-walled holding cell from the Washington County Detention Center and reported to the court he was sitting on a metal stool for the duration of the hearing.
Prior to the hearing, Duggar asked the court to release him on bail, arguing he is not a flight risk and should be allowed to return home to his pregnant wife Anna and their six kids or to a third-party custodian with no minor children.
On April 30, Duggar was charged by indictment in Arkansas for receipt and possession of child pornography. If convicted, Duggar faces up to 20 years of imprisonment and fines up to $250,000 on each count.