As an attorney, Charles Rust-Tierney is not unfamiliar with the inside of a courtroom.
As the Arlington resident stoically answered inquiries from Judge T.S. Ellis III last week in a federal courtroom in Alexandria, it was easy to imagine that the former public defender was there representing another of his clients.
But instead of a lawyer’s dark blue business suit, Rust-Tierney was dressed in a green jumpsuit that read "Prisoner" on the back. And instead of arguing a case, Rust-Tierney was entering a plea of guilty for himself.
The former head of the Virginia ACLU and a youth sports coach in Arlington plead guilty to the receipt of child pornography, a crime that may put Rust-Tierney behind bars for up to 20 years.
During the plea hearing, Rust-Tierney admitted to accessing more than 1,000 images and videos of child pornography in the last two years, many of which, according to prosecuting attorney Edward McAndrew, depicted victims under the age of 10. He has been detained since his arrest by local and federal authorities in late February.
At the hearing, Rust-Tierney, a tall man with a light beard and glasses, stood and listened as Ellis meticulously read through the charges against him and all of the rights he was ceding with his plea.
In the courtroom’s gallery, about 10 of Rust-Tierney’s friends and family watched silently as the judge discussed exactly how many months Rust-Tierney could expect to be incarcerated.
Rust-Tierney’s ex-wife, Diann Rust-Tierney, who is the executive director of an anti-death penalty group, was in the audience at his plea hearing. After it was over and Rust-Tierney was led out of the room, she was on the verge of tears as she spoke with her former husband’s attorneys about his fate.
AFTER RUST-TIERNEY was arrested, a large crowd of people attended his bond hearing to support him and vouch for his character, Diann Rust-Tierney said.
Fewer attended this hearing. In the lobby afterwards, several stayed and chatted with Rust-Tierney’s lawyers, Peter Greenspun and Jonathan Shapiro, who declined to comment for this story.
On May 10, Rust-Tierney was indicted on two counts of receipt and possession of child pornography. The indictment alleged that he "Knowingly received multiple computer files that contained photo and video depictions" of "explicit" sexual acts including "sadistic and masochistic abuse" of "minor teenage and prepubescent children."
In accordance with the plea agreement negotiated by Assistant U.S. Attorney McAndrew, the possession charge was dropped.
Rust-Tierney faces between five and 20 years in jail, according to advisory guidelines for cases such as this.
Prosecutors recommended to Judge Ellis that Rust-Tierney be jailed for eight years but Ellis can sentence Rust-Tierney more or less time than this.
Ellis also noted that Rust-Tierney cannot be paroled and that he must register as a sex offender in any jurisdiction he works or lives in after he is released from prison.
Rust-Tierney resigned from the Virginia ACLU’s board of directors, on which he served as president from 1993 to 2005, resigning shortly after being arrested in February.
THE PLEA HEARING served to ensure that Rust-Tierney was completely aware of his rights as he pleaded guilty.
At times, Ellis would ask Rust-Tierney pointed questions about his involvement in the receipt of child pornography over the internet.
"What was the name of the Web site [you frequented]?" Ellis asked.
Rust-Tierney paused awkwardly, replying that its name is listed in the indictment against him.
"As is in my plea agreement, I received computer files for my home computer that contained images of child pornography," he said.
"Is this true?" Ellis asked.
"It is true," Rust-Tierney responded.