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NH Man Cleared Of Child Porn Charges After Document Vanishes

By Michael Rosenfield, WBZ-TV
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PORTSMOUTH, NH (CBS) – Seventy-five counts of possession of child pornography have suddenly been dropped against Jerome Steffan, Jr. after an affidavit for the search warrant of his home vanished from the case file at Portsmouth District Court.

“There was one that did exist, unfortunately it was just misplaced,” said Rockingham County Senior Assistant Prosecutor Patricia Conway.

Without the affidavit, the search warrant becomes invalid and that leaves Rockingham County prosecutors with no evidence, including the images found on Steffan’s computer, to show to a jury.

“Once all the evidence is suppressed, we don’t have any way to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person possessed those images,” said Conway.

Neither Steffan nor his attorney returned calls for a comment today.

Prosecutors are not sure if the detective on the case, the judge who reviewed the affidavit, or a court clerk lost the paperwork.

A search of the courthouse turned up nothing.

“Human error, I don’t know who exactly misplaced it,” said Conway. “I don’t know how many people touched the court file or touched that affidavit, but somehow it was misplaced.”

The turn of events has made some neighbors at the Beechstone Apartments in Portsmouth where Steffan had been living when he was arrested upset that a case with so many felony counts could be dismissed, and that a jury will not be able to determine guilt or innocence.

“How can anybody misplace documents in something as important as that,” wonders resident Glenda Philbrick.

Prosecutors say Steffan, 49, got a lucky break.

“Essentially, yes he did,” says Conway.

Prosecutors acknowledge it is unlikely the document will ever resurface, but it if does it is possible the case will be reinstated.

“He probably does present a danger to our community,” says Conway. “But he was never convicted of anything.”

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