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Tennessee man charged in 'virtual pornography' case

  • Story Highlights
  • Pictures of girls' faces on photos of adult nude bodies lead to charges
  • Investigators do not believe Campbell had any contact with the three girls
  • Child's face attached to pictures indicates "simulated sexual activity," official says
  • "Virtual pornography" cases such as this present a unique legal issue
By Ashley Broughton
CNN
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(CNN) -- A Tennessee man is facing charges of aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor for what authorities say are three pictures -- none of them featuring an actual child's body.

Instead, according to testimony presented at Michael Wayne Campbell's preliminary hearing in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Wednesday, the photos feature the faces of three young girls placed on the nude bodies of adult females, CNN affiliate WDEF reported.

Hamilton County Det. Michael Cox said Campbell told authorities "he wanted to see what they would look like as adults," according to WDEF.

Two of the faces were of local girls -- a 10-year-old and 12-year-old, the station reported. The third face appears to be Miley Cyrus, 16, star of Disney's popular television series "Hannah Montana" and its big-screen adaptation, "Hanna Montana: The Movie," according to WDEF.

Investigators do not believe Campbell had any contact with the three girls, but "when you have the face of a small child affixed to a nude body of a mature woman, it's going to be the state's position that this is for sexual gratification and that this is simulated sexual activity," Assistant District Attorney Dave Denny said during Wednesday's hearing. Attempts to contact Denny by CNN Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Cases like Campbell's present a unique legal issue. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 ruled that "virtual child pornography," in which no children were actually harmed, is protected speech and does not constitute a crime.

Since then, "more and more of these guys are using morphed images, image manipulations" in an attempt to circumvent prosecution, Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said Wednesday.

Such attempts are not always successful, Allen said, as charges can still be filed under obscenity laws or other statutes. Also, other avenues can be pursued when the faces used are those of real, identifiable people, he said.

"We see it all the time," Allen said. "It makes it harder for law enforcement. It makes it tougher for prosecutors."

"It's definitely on the increase," said Justin Fitzsimmons, a former prosecutor and senior attorney with the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, part of the National District Attorneys' Association. "People are trying to come up with creative ways to continue to sexually exploit children using digital evidence."

Generally, what is seen is the "Photoshop effect," in which people use the face of a child on an adult body or vice versa in an effort to get around the law, he said.

Nearly every state, however, has adopted a law in response to the Supreme Court decision in the case, Fitzsimmons said.

For instance, Tennessee's laws state that in prosecuting the offense of sexual exploitation of a minor, "the state is not required to prove the actual identity or age of the minor."

As to the success of such prosecutions, "there have not been a huge number of them," Allen said. While some have been successful and won convictions, many such cases are still in the appellate process.

Fitzsimmons said he believes it is too soon to gauge the success or failure of prosecutorial efforts, as the cases "are just being challenged now."

"It really is sort of a blending of technology and the law," he said, and predicted such issues would become more common as society becomes more and more high-tech and technology is increasingly used in the commission of crimes.

Campbell was bound over to a grand jury, according to Hamilton County online court records.

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