Wesley George Thorn's 27-month sentence for possession of child pornography will stand following a ruling issued earlier today by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Thorn, 46, Carl Junction, was supervisor of the Division of Child Support Enforcement in the Joplin office of the Missouri Department of Social Services when he was indicted by a federal grand jury in October 2002.
The beginning of the end for Thorn was when co-workers complained to supervisors that Thorn was violating the agency's computer use policy by copying and distributing non-work related e-mails throughout the office. He was also inaccessible for long time periods during the day.
The Department of Social Services investigated the complaint by conducting a remote examination of the hard drive on Thorn's computer to see whether he had sent the mail. That was proven, and it was also discovered that Thorn had been visiting pornographic websites, according to court records.
Thorn's computer and floppy disks were confiscated for further investigation. Thorn did not help himself when he asked to retrieve some tax forms from his desk. He was not allowed to do so, but he allowed a supervisor to get the forms. The supervisor found adult pornography in the desk and the Department of Social Services fired Thorn.
When Social Services' legal department began going through Thorn's files to put together a letter to explain why he was being fired, a lawyer discovered child pornography on several floppy disks, and the materials were turned over to law enforcement officials.
During his trial, Thorn claimed his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated, but those claims were overruled since he had no expectation of privacy on his work computer or discs he had at his workplace.
It was also noted that Social Services had a communications policy that totally eliminated any expectation of privacy. The policy stated that the contents of his computer could be audited at any time even if there had been no allegations.
When Thorn allowed his supervisor to go through his desk, the resulting discovery justified any further search, the court ruled.
After Thorn's efforts to assert Fourth Amendment rights failed, he entered a conditional plea of guilty, pending his appeal of the search and seizure ruling. He received the mandatory sentence, 27 months in federal prison.
He was rejected on the Fourth Amendment appeal, then filed two other appeals, both concerning the length of his sentence. His final appeal came after the U. S. Supreme Court's Booker ruling, which threw out mandatory sentencing guidelines.
Thorn also argued that the court should not have ignored his "diminished mental capacity." The court ruling said it saw no evidence that he had a diminished mental capacity.
In addition to the Department of Social Services, the Thorn case was also investigated by the Joplin Police Department, the Missouri State Technical Assistance Team and the FBI.