KEENE, NH – A retired Vermont teacher pleaded guilty Wednesday to five felony counts of possession of child sex abuse images, a case that started when he was caught looking at the images and videos while at the Keene Starbucks.
Brian Morrison, 60, will serve up to four years in the New Hampshire State prison as part of the plea agreement, and he will have another eight-year sentence suspended for 10 years once he’s released.
Deputy Cheshire County Attorney Kathleen O’Reilly said Morrison was charged with similar crimes in Vermont in 2017, but that case fizzled out. O’Reilly said she is not sure what happened to the Vermont case.
“The ball had been dropped over there and the investigation incomplete,” O’Reilly said in court.
In March of 2019, an employee at the Cheshire House of Corrections was at the Starbuck on West Street in Keene when he and his companion saw Morrison looking at videos depicting child sex abuse, O’Reilly said. Morrison was using the Starbucks free wifi, had his back to the window and his laptop screen started reflecting on the glass as evening approached, O’Reilly said. Police were called and they seized his computer in order to apply for a search warrant.
The search warrant turned up between 40 and 50 images and videos depicting young children being sexually assaulted, according to O’Reilly.
“Some of these pictures were of very young children,” O’Reilly said.
Morrison’s defense attorney Benjamin Schiffelbein acknowledged the “horrific” nature of the images, but said his client is not solely responsible in this case.
“I don’t think it’s an indictment of Brian that he was able to do this from Starbucks, I think it’s an indictment of our society, Schiffelbein.
The indictments, handed up in secret last July, contain information about the disturbing images and videos Morrison allegedly had on his electronic devices. The images of sexual abuse include depictions of violent sexual assaults and one image involving bestiality, according to the court record.
Schiffelbein suggested that courts and law enforcement ought to be devoting more resources into going after large tech companies that facilitate the exchange of these images and videos. Judge David Ruoff said that while child sex abuse image cases have exploded along with the internet, individual responsibility counts.
“Anyone who looks at these pictures is responsible for child pornography. The defendant didn’t have just a couple of pictures,” Ruoff said.
Ruoff said that while there is an Internet underworld where these images can be found, the laws of supply and demand mean that anyone looking for these photos and images is helping create a demand for them.
“I have to take these cases very seriously. If you’re engaging in this type of conduct, it cannot be tolerated. People like yourselves are creating the demand for images of the rape and torture of children,” Ruoff said.
After his retirement, Morrison was a guitar player for the oldies cover band, Annie and the Sapphires. The band is based in Brattleboro, Vermont, according to the band’s online booking site.