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Henniker man accused of rape and incest stands trial for child porn

Two years ago, when a trio of Henniker police officers entered James Houghton’s small one-story home on Craney Pond Road, they had a clear search objective: documents and nude images related to a female relative who had accused him of raping her for several years.

They found those, and a lot more.

On a laptop buried in a bedroom dresser, they discovered nearly two dozen lewd images and videos of what appeared to be underage girls.

Those images were the focal point yesterday in the first of at least three trials on Houghton’s more than 40 alleged offenses, which include sexually assaulting the now 26-year-old relative, as well as a 10-year-old Concord girl. All the trials will be held in Merrimack County Superior Court; the next, on the abuse charges regarding the relative, is slated for January.

Houghton, a squat 49-year-old with a graying beard and a dark-brown ponytail, has been charged with 23 felony counts of possession of child pornography – 17 images and six videos. Detectives said they found the media in various locations on one of two laptops seized during the Aug. 25, 2011, search, in addition to other electronic devices. Details about the contents of those other devices were not addressed in court yesterday, the first day of the scheduled two-day trial.

In her opening statement, Assistant County Attorney Rachel Harrington indicated to a jury that the dresser laptop must have belonged to Houghton – that he was living alone in the home at the time of the 2011 search and that he admitted to an officer as it was happening that he was the only one with password-protected access to the computer.

That officer, Amy Bossi, testified yesterday that Houghton disclosed to her that he viewed pornographic images periodically, usually via texts sent from acquaintances. When asked whether he had child pornography on his computers, Houghton said he “didn’t believe so,” Bossi said.

“Did you clarify what that meant?” Harrington asked.

“I asked him what ‘I don’t believe so’ meant,” Bossi replied. “He said, ‘Well, you never really know how old they are.’ ”

But the defense argued that Houghton was not the only person with access to the computer. In her opening, Melinda Siranian, one of Houghton’s two attorneys, said there was another person who knew the password: the female relative and alleged assault victim. That woman, Siranian said, had been living with Houghton on and off in the months preceding the search and had regular access to the laptop.

Houghton “didn’t know these images were on a computer that he shared with someone else,” she told the jury.

Testimony yesterday by police officers, including the three who executed the search and a computer forensics detective, unfolded in constant fits and starts, as attorneys on both sides struggled to prevent details on Houghton’s other cases from being introduced, because they might taint the jury. There were roughly a dozen objections throughout the day, most resulting in hushed, huddled bench meetings with Judge Larry Smukler.

Houghton was first indicted in December on charges he sexually assaulted the relative from 2004, when she was 17 years old, until 2011. According to a police affidavit, the woman said she met Houghton when she was 12, and that his flirtations turned physical a few years later. She told the police that he later created a list that dictated what sexual acts she had to perform with him. In exchange for completing the tasks, Houghton said he would “back off,” the affidavit stated.

One of items, the woman said, involved Houghton taking pictures of her genitals. Using that statement, investigators obtained the 2011 warrant to search Houghton’s property.

In February 2012, while incarcerated on the assault charges, Houghton was indicted on charges of witness tampering and violation of privacy. The police said he retaliated against the woman for having contacted the police by asking others to disseminate sexual photographs of her.

The case further expanded in March when he was accused of molesting the 10-year-old girl between September 2011 and October 2012. Prosecutors, who have not described how he knows that girl, alleged that he inappropriately touched the girl’s genitalia, that he kissed her on the lips and that he rubbed his genitals against her twice, once when she was on his lap and once when he laid on top of her.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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