Minn. coach's child porn case tests investigators

Associated Press Modified: August 27, 2012 at 6:19 pm •  Published: August 27, 2012
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota football coach accused of taking pornographic videos of his children is offering a simple explanation: The images are nothing more than innocent family antics, unfairly misinterpreted by authorities as having the darkest possible motive.

That defense, first presented by Todd Hoffner's attorney last week and reiterated by his wife on Monday, will face tremendous scrutiny by investigators in the days ahead and a likely challenge by prosecutors before a jury, experts said.

"Where you draw the line is through investigation," said Meg Garvin, the executive director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute in Portland, Ore. "Because sometimes the pictures you first see in a child pornography case might be very similar to benign family photos, and it takes more investigation to determine that, as well as experts talking to the children. And that's sometimes how we'll find out what's happening."

What they'll discover is nothing illegal, said Melodee Hoffner, whose husband is the football coach at Minnesota State University in Mankato. In the family's first statement since her husband's arrest last week, Hoffner called the charges against her husband "ridiculous and baseless."

"My family does what every family does — we take videos and pictures of our kids in all their craziness," Melodee Hoffner said Monday.

Hoffner, 46, of Eagle Lake, was arrested last week and charged with two felonies: possession of child pornography and using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work. Capt. Rich Murry of the Blue Earth County Sheriff's Office said officers seized computers, discs and electronic equipment when they searched the coach's home following his arrest, and that material is being searched for any relevant evidence.

Experts who reviewed authorities' descriptions of Hoffner's videos said to determine the innocent from the nefarious, detectives will try to uncover whether the videos were kept secret or if other adult family members knew of them. While debating whether to file charges, they said, officials often consider whether there are multiple pictures or videos and whether the children are acting naturally for their age.

Marsh Halberg, a prominent defense attorney in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, said such investigations rarely yield close calls. He cited a case in which his client was investigated for taking a picture of her naked toddler on a beach. It was seen by day care workers, who went to authorities.

Officials searched his client's home and conducted interviews to determine the context of the photo, Halberg said. They decided not to charge his client.

"Usually, when I have a child porn case, this hasn't been a gray line," he said.

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