Snapshots or porn? Mom headed to court over pictures of daughter | NevadaAppeal.com

Snapshots or porn? Mom headed to court over pictures of daughter

THOMAS J. SHEERAN Associated Press Writer

OBERLIN, Ohio (AP) – For years, Cynthia Stewart relentlessly photographed her daughter’s everyday life.

She took 40,000 snapshots – an average of half a roll daily – and boxes filled with photo envelopes are stacked waist-high in her home.

Among the chronicle of the 8-year-old’s activities are a handful of frames that show the child in the bathtub last summer. And because of them, Stewart is headed to court, charged with taking lewd photos.

Stewart, 48, has been suspended from her job as a school bus driver while she awaits a May trial. She declined to speak with The Associated Press, citing attorneys’ advice.

Meanwhile, her cause has won the support of the American Civil Liberties Union as well as local backers who have turned out at rallies. People elsewhere have contributed $35,000 to her defense.

But some in this picturesque college town believe it’s inappropriate to photograph a child rinsing off her genital area with a hand-held shower head.

”When I was growing up, we never had pictures taken like that,” Jean Ruth, 50, said Thursday as she pushed her year-old grandnephew in a stroller. ”An 8-year-old should not have her picture taken in the bathtub.”

Stewart’s trouble began when an area photography lab alerted police to the bathtub photos. Prosecutors judged them pornographic and charged the mother with illegal use of a child in nudity-oriented material and pandering sexually oriented material.

But in court papers, Stewart said her daughter had begun a routine at age 3 of rinsing herself off with a shower spray while bath water ran down the drain.

If convicted, Stewart faces 16 years in prison.

Settlement talks have been unsuccessful. Family friend Stanley Mathews said Thursday that Stewart wouldn’t accept a settlement that included an admission of wrongdoing.

Lorain County Prosecutor Gregory A. White said his case would be made in court and that ”people need to reflect on the situation here.”

The case is similar to last month’s arrest of a 65-year-old grandmother in Montclair, N.J., on child endangering charges for taking nude photos of her granddaughters, 4 and 6 years old. A photo lab also intercepted those shots.

According to Mathews, the case has united Oberlin, a city of about 8,000 roughly 35 miles southwest of Cleveland. A courthouse rally last month attracted more than 70 Stewart supporters, and a candlelight vigil drew more than 200.

Oberlin College sits amid the city’s postcard-pretty business district, where the smell of incense wafts from storefronts that sell ”wearable art” and the politics tend to be liberal.

The ACLU has backed Stewart with supporting legal briefs.

While children must be protected, in this case ”just the act of taking photos is a crime. There’s no sign of abuse at all,” said Gino Scarselli, associate legal director for the ACLU of Ohio.

Mathews described Stewart as a doting parent who spends a lot of time with her daughter.

”I think the worst crime she can be accused of is naivete,” he said.