Caught in the Web

Roche Girard says he was trying to stop child porn. Now he's accused of the same crime.

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Girard has no shortage of evidence to support his claim of innocence. - Walter  Novak
Girard has no shortage of evidence to support his claim of innocence.
It started in August, with two men in a chat room asking for children to molest. To Roche Girard, a beefy 26-year-old father with spiked hair and a sparse goatee, the words stuck out like a neon sign. The idea of someone molesting his three-year-old boy was horrible, Girard says, but the thought that someone could know and not report it was even worse.

"It's a moral duty, I would think," he says.

So he decided to play along with the perverts. He responded that he could help the men find kids, but first he needed their names and phone numbers. Spooked, they disappeared. Girard called the FBI and spoke to an operator for several minutes. He says the agency promised to look into it.

The incident was still fresh in Girard's mind two days later, when he experimented with a Napster-like service called LimeWire, which allows users to download music and movies. He scanned the available titles: Rambo, Rocky, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Terminator. Then one jumped out at him: Cute 12 Year Old Being Taught by Daddy.

Girard downloaded the movie and discovered a list of words appended to the title, including "Incest," "Teen," "Preteen," "Lolita," and "Porn." When he opened the file, he was shocked. It wasn't child pornography, but something equally disgusting: a blond woman in a nightgown with a gun pressed against her temple. She casts nervous glances at the gunman and blurts, "Snuff films do not exist!" Blam! Her head snaps back, and dark red splatters the wall.

It would turn out that Girard had stumbled on an infamous fake that has been passed around the Internet for years. But to him, it looked like a real murder. He says he sent an e-mail to the FBI, alerting the agency to what he had found, and sent a copy of the movie to friend Tom Webb to get his opinion. Webb, 22, panicked when he saw the realistic-looking movie. "I was even pausing it on my computer, and you can see the bullet hole!" he says. Webb tried calling Girard, who wasn't home, so he made a copy of the movie and gave it to police.

Later that afternoon, Webb reached Girard and was told that the snuff film wasn't the only thing he had found. There were several other clips bundled with it that Girard couldn't figure out how to open. Webb got one of them to flicker to life, and they watched as a pair of girls, about nine years old, played at a slumber party. The girls pulled up their nightgowns.

Webb says the footage didn't show any nudity. Girard adds that "the only thing you could do, with a strong imagination and a common sense of a girl's anatomy, is imagine the area. It's like a Sears and Roebuck commercial for underwear for kids." Still, Webb knew it meant trouble.

Later that day, as Girard was out picking up his son, police raided his Medina home. He returned to find his dog loose, his computer confiscated, and, he says, a photo album spread open to a picture of his son. Next to the picture were a detective's business card and a copy of the search warrant.

"I did leave my business card on his table. That much is correct," says Detective James Foraker. But he declines to discuss the case further. "I don't like to fight my stuff in a newspaper." Medina County Assistant Prosecutor Scott Salisbury also declined comment.

In an affidavit, Foraker said, "Several still images and one video depicting child pornography were found" on Girard's computer. The "video" may refer to the slumber party clip, and while it's unclear what "several still images" refers to, Webb says some of the other files bundled with the snuff film were "short blips" that he couldn't make out. Police charged Girard with pandering obscenity involving a minor and possessing criminal tools (his computer).

Since then, Girard has become well-acquainted with the criminal justice system. He posted bail for the child porn, but picked up additional charges for unrelated incidents: theft and forgery for writing a check in someone else's name, carrying a concealed weapon in his car (he says this charge is being dropped), and theft for accepting $6,000 for a landscaping job he didn't do (he claims he couldn't work because he was in jail).

Girard's modestly successful landscaping business collapsed because he spent so much time and money defending himself. His personal life suffered as well, and he became something of a shut-in. "They have taken my money, ruined my business . . . A person can only take so much, and I am ready to snap."

All because he saw what looked like a crime and tried to report it. "He's a good guy," says Jill Ribley, whose son is friends with Girard's boy. "I just think it was a misunderstanding."

It's easy to see why people find Girard so credible. His story seems fantastic, but he has a trove of records to back it up, including a phone bill documenting his calls to the FBI. The movie file he describes sounds like something about which reasonable people might disagree, and his accusers haven't shied away from hyperbole -- one court document accuses him of being a one-man "crime wave." Above all, Girard has a way of enlisting listeners in his quest to prove his innocence.

But former girlfriends say there's another side to him. "He's very good at conning people, and you probably are taken in by him," the mother of his child says. Get to know him better, she says, and you'll see the games he plays. "You're not good enough, and nobody likes you, and everybody else is wrong in society except him and his father."

She and other ex-girlfriends say they have no solid evidence to suggest Girard likes child porn. But "after seeing so many sides of him already," says ex-girlfriend Darlene Dale of Edmonton, Alberta, "who knows how many other sides he has?"

Dale met Girard in a chat room before his arrest, and his first words were, in retrospect, somewhat prophetic. "He originally thought I was selling porn," she says. She told him she wasn't, but they kept talking, and he seemed nice. Before long, they were flirting over e-mail and the phone. She was in the midst of a divorce and got swept up in the new romance, flying to Ohio for a five-day visit.

Then came Girard's trouble with the law, and things started to get weird. He called her collect 15 times a day from jail, racking up a $300 phone bill. He also sent her hundreds of e-mails. She says she asked for space, intending to break off the relationship, but he wouldn't leave her alone.

"You blew it, not me," he wrote in one e-mail. "I have been so nice and caring this week -- the real me back in action. Stop driving guys to hate you."

Girard was driven all right. At one point, he even sent a fax to Dale's husband. "Without bordering [on] harassment against you," he wrote, "I would like to take this time and apologize for my affair with your wife."

Girard also went to a chat room pretending to be Dale, she says, and posted a message that read, "I want sex," listing her phone number and address. Men she never met flooded her with calls. (Girard claims it was Dale's ex-husband who posted the message.)

Dale has changed her phone number four times, she says, but somehow Girard keeps getting it. Now she's planning to move and change her name. "I'm having to get rid of my whole life."

Dale's description of Girard comes as no surprise to the mother of his son, who asked that her name not be used for this story. She befriended Girard when she was 19. In those days, Girard would send her on "missions" to gather information about his 17-year-old ex-girlfriend. She knows it sounds odd, but she says she was young and naive. "He would have me go out with her, and then he'd sit outside in the parking lot and watch us. He'd want me to ask her who she's been with and why she doesn't like him anymore."

Girard characterizes it differently, saying he was trying to gather evidence to prove his innocence, in case police accused him of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

The woman eventually became romantically involved with Girard. They lived together and had a son. By February 2000, she says, she was tired of his possessiveness and moved out. He fell behind in his child support. Then came the child-porn charges. Since then, she hasn't left Girard alone with their boy. "I'm not leaving my son with someone who's been charged with that," she says.

While Dale and the mother of Girard's son have a litany of complaints about their former boyfriend, neither says she witnessed anything untoward involving children. But a third ex-girlfriend, who couldn't be reached for comment, wrote an angry letter to Girard, accusing him of molesting her daughter.

"Just to let you know [my daughter] is fine," the letter reads. "She knows everything about you. You are a piece of shit. [My daughter] has told me how you tried to get her to touch your penis and believe me you will pay. Everyone will know about this."

But if Girard is guilty, he certainly hasn't acted the part. Soon after receiving the letter, he showed it to a Medina police officer. He says the fact that he hasn't been investigated, charged, or arrested proves the allegation is false. He also provided the letter to Scene, along with copies of e-mails and faxes sent to Dale and her husband, and phone numbers for his ex-girlfriends.

He says he simply has nothing to hide.

Then there's the question of the strange e-mails. People who know Girard have had new e-mail accounts created in their names. Someone has been sending mass mailings to the court and the media, championing Girard and maligning his accusers.

"Leave Roche alone and stop harassing his family," reads a message sent under Darlene Dale's name. "It is overly apparent that you are targeting the guy and trying to flood him with charges so he will make a plea. I know Roche and he is so much stronger than you can ever imagine."

Girard claims that police are behind the messages, and that he didn't have a computer at the time when some of them were sent. But those who know him say the phrasing and tone of the messages are consistent with his own writing.

Whoever wrote the e-mails got one thing right: Girard continues to proclaim his innocence. Despite all that has happened, he maintains that he was only doing what any good citizen would do in the same situation.

"You can't rely on law enforcement to fix the world; people have to get involved and take a stance," he says. "You call me nosy, you call me curious. I say I'm a good person."

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