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Thursday, August 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Random discovery aided child-porn case against former VA doctor

A homeless drug user rummaging through apartment dumpsters in October 2014 found a trove of computer hard drives and DVDs that helped turn a child-rape investigation into the multistate child pornography prosecution of former Veterans Affairs emergency doctor Craig Morgenstern.

Michael Crowe, clad in lemon-yellow jail scrubs, told jurors during the third day of Morgenstern’s Spokane trial how he came upon two U-Haul moving boxes taped shut and discarded with other trash at an apartment complex just north of Francis Avenue.

A resident who found him digging through the trash at 3 a.m. accosted him for being an identity thief. Crowe said he shrugged, put the boxes on the handlebars of his bicycle and pedaled away.

When he opened the boxes he found electronic equipment. So he sold the equipment to two neighborhood women he dealt with, Katherine Nauroth and Tina Fossum. They paid him cash and gave him music. In this case they planned to scrub the hard drives and resell them.

Instead, Nauroth told jurors she opened files on the hard drives and found “nothing good.”

She called Crowe and told him about all the child pornography. He replied: “Call the police.”

Crowe, a self-described user of cocaine and methamphetamine, said he has been to prison three times. He was arrested earlier this month for drug possession.

Prosecutors say Morgenstern tried to destroy the electronic equipment that he used to store pictures and homemade videos of himself performing sex acts on six boys from 2008 until October 2014.

It took investigators more than 30 hours from the time a 13-year-old boy fled from Morgenstern’s Nine Mile Falls home and called for help to when they were able to obtain a search warrant and begin seizing evidence.

In that time Morgenstern almost succeeded in clearing his house of potential evidence. Investigators testified most of the evidence had been removed from the home by the time they executed the search warrant. No one from law enforcement tailed Morgenstern as he loaded the boxes of electronic equipment allegedly containing about 1 million images of child pornography and drove away from his house to the apartment complex dumpsters.

Jurors who were visibly reviled when they watched some of the videos on Tuesday were asked to view more child pornography on Wednesday as federal prosecutors Stephanie Lister and James Goeke continued to build an extensive case that has left parents of the victims in tears.

Morgenstern’s defense attorney, Bryan Whitaker, has had little to work with as U.S. District Judge William Nielsen earlier rejected motions to suppress evidence.

The evidence recovered by Crowe wasn’t the only equipment Morgenstern allegedly tried to hide or destroy.

On the day he surrendered to Stevens County detectives, Morgenstern pushed a friend’s loyalty too far.

Thomas Pomilla and his wife, Neva Crogan-Pomilla, opened their home to their troubled friend as allegations mounted that he had drugged and raped a boy.

They helped him find a lawyer who then arranged for Morgenstern to peacefully turn himself in to investigators in Colville.

As Pomilla drove the doctor north along the highway in his black Mercedes, the two chatted until Morgenstern began breaking a laptop computer.

It was the first time, Pomilla told jurors, that he began to doubt Morgenstern’s innocence.

The doctor had befriended Pomilla’s wife 20 years earlier, taking college courses that she taught. He also joined her and her son in their taekwondo classes.

Their friendship rekindled 20 years later, in about 2012, when Crogan-Pomilla ran into Morgenstern during a tour of the VA hospital in Spokane.

Thomas Pomilla instantly took a liking to Morgenstern and quickly folded him into their social circle for barbecues and movie nights.

“We trusted this fella,” Pomilla said.

As Morgenstern allegedly damaged the laptop during the car ride to jail, he asked Pomilla to steer into an apartment complex along Hatch Road and park next to a dumpster.

Pomilla said he can still hear the “crack, crack, crack. Break, break, break,” of the laptop as Morgenstern folded it over on itself and got out of the car and walked to the trash bin.

He described the rest of the drive to Colville as surreal. The two barely spoke and Pomilla said his chest began to ache and he was anxiety-ridden.

After he dropped off Morgenstern with investigators, Pomilla said he was about to leave when a deputy began asking him questions. His heart raced, and he worried about his role in the unfolding case.

By the time he got home, the police had already been inside his residence looking for evidence.

Pomilla told investigators about the laptop and they recovered the machine.

Morgenstern also left a blue duffel bag with “Win” printed across one side. Inside were belongings that Pomilla turned over to lawyers.

“I’ve tried to forget this whole mess,” he told jurors. “I’ve lost trust in making friends.”

Forensics specialists with the FBI, the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and the Spokane Police Department worked with the undermanned Stevens County investigators to reveal the child pornography held on the laptop as well as the devices found by Crowe.

Dr. Thomas Satterfield, a pediatric anesthesiologist who works with children at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital, told jurors that he watched some of the videos Morgenstern is accused of producing.

He said the children appeared sedated without regard for the standard of care a physician would follow to ensure their safety, such as careful monitoring of their heart rate and electrical activity of the heart, blood pressure, blood-oxygen levels and respiration.

He then gave jurors an explanation of the various prescription benzodiazepines that Morgenstern is accused of mixing into drinks such as hot cocoa. And he told them about possible side effects of such drugs.

The trial continues Thursday.

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