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Tuesday, August 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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FBI agent laments not catching Craig Morgenstern years ago

Craig Morgenstern, a former emergency room doctor at the Spokane VA Medical Center, was arrested in 2014 and charged in Stevens County with child rape. (Courtesy the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office)
Craig Morgenstern, a former emergency room doctor at the Spokane VA Medical Center, was arrested in 2014 and charged in Stevens County with child rape. (Courtesy the Stevens County Sheriff’s Office)

The picture – a seemingly innocent image of a little boy sleeping in his one-piece footie pajamas after a fun-filled day at an amusement park – cast a pall over the courtroom Thursday.

Jurors knew what was next. Many turned away from the video monitors.

Four days in, the child sexual assault and pornography prosecution of former Veterans Affairs emergency doctor Craig Morgenstern is taking a toll. U.S. District Judge William Nielsen acknowleged Thursday that the case is “emotional and disturbing.”

FBI special agent Leland McEuen led jurors through his investigation of Morgenstern that began in October 2014 with a 13-year-old boy’s desperate call for help. The boy had just escaped the doctor’s half-million-dollar lakeshore home in Nine Mile Falls in the middle of the night.

By Thursday’s end McEuen had, during an hourslong clinical accounting of the evidence, told of finding five other boys.

He and a team of local forensics experts, scientists, nurses and detectives worked closely with federal prosecutors on a 35-count indictment that could put Morgenstern in prison for life if he’s convicted.

Among the charges is Morgenstern’s alleged sexual assault and pictures of two brothers, ages 7 and 8, who, court documents say, were knocked out with prescription sedatives commonly administered before surgery.

Just hours earlier Morgenstern had taken pictures of the boys soaking wet from a fun-filled day at the Triple Play water park in Hayden, Idaho. Another picture showed Morgenstern and one of the boys hamming for the camera in oversized sunglasses.

McEuen said during a trial break that he wished he could have caught Morgenstern years ago.

“That’s my regret,” he said.

Parents and grandparents of the victimized children have been present all week in the front row of the gallery. Prosecutors anticipate calling several to testify Monday when the trial resumes.

They also plan to call at least two or three boys who prosecutors said have mustered the courage to face a man they once thought of as a trusted family friend.

Morgenstern’s attorney, Bryan Whitaker, questioned the FBI’s travel records and whether the agency can show the doctor took children or pornography across state lines.

McEuen said there could be many more victims. He found pictures of at least 20 more boys that he hasn’t identified lying in the same manner as the six sedated boys at the center of the case.

The FBI believes Morgenstern took dozens of videos and thousands of pictures.

Investigators recovered multiple computers, DVDs, cameras, memory cards and external backup drives – including a 3-terabyte device – that held about 1 million pornography items. Many of those items were downloaded from the Internet, including pictures tagged by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

McEuen told jurors Thursday that he found no evidence Morgenstern uploaded any part of his vast collection to the Internet. Morgenstern had tried to destroy most of evidence in the hours after he fell under suspicion in October 2014. But there was one collection of child pornography he kept close even as investigators drew close. It was called “Best of Best.”

“It is one of the most addictive mental things I’ve ever dealt with,” McEuen told jurors. “They want it with them, near them and hidden so it’s not found.”

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