Images left on tablet lead to child porn arrest in New Castle

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Her Samsung tablet computer was used, but it was new to her, and on Christmas morning Kayla Petronelis turned it on to snap a picture of her 5-year-old daughter. But when she went to view the photo, she stumbled upon something else within the tablet.

She believed it was child pornography.

"It was so terrible," said Ms. Petronelis, a 27-year-old tattoo artist who lives in New Castle. "I cried for days."

She didn't recognize the young girl in the videos, who was just a few years older than her own daughter. But she said the adult was the man she knew as "Don," who said he was from New Castle and had sold her the tablet -- removing its memory cards just before he handed it to her -- for $225 at an Ohio flea market the Sunday before Christmas.

"I was completely mortified by it," she said of images she discovered. "The stuff that he was doing to her was very graphic. I couldn't believe that a man would do that to a child."

She tried to turn the tablet over the New Castle Police Department on Dec. 26, but they asked her to come back Dec. 30 when the officer who would investigate the incident was scheduled to return, leading Ms. Petronelis to worry about what might be happening to the child in the interim.

On Thursday, police arrested Donald A. Miller, 43, of New Castle. He faces charges of rape of a child, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, aggravated indecent assault of a child, indecent assault of a person less than 13 years old and filming of sexual acts involving a child. According to the criminal complaint, the tablet contained seven videos showing various sex acts occurring between Mr. Miller and a girl of about 7 or 8 years old.

At several points in the videos, a female child's voice refers to the man as "Daddy," a term Mr. Miller also uses to describe himself in the videos, the complaint said.

Investigators, using Facebook and information recovered from the tablet, were able to identify people who appeared in pictures on the tablet, including Mr. Miller and an older woman, and come up with a possible address for Mr. Miller, according to the criminal complaint. The license plate of a car parked by the residence led to driver information for a woman whose picture matched an image on the tablet.

Police obtained a search warrant, and the woman told police that Donald Miller, a man she described as her partner, was not there. She said she had "thrown him out a few days after Christmas because she received a call that he was 'french' kissing" a girl in her custody.

She confirmed that the girl, who is not related to Mr. Miller, was the 8-year-old in the tablet images.

Police recovered numerous devices, including cell phones, laptops and memory cards, from the New Castle home. New Castle Sgt. Kevin Seelbaugh said police will continue to investigate whether other images can be found. Mr. Miller, who surrendered to police, remains in custody in Lawrence County Jail unable to post his $150,000 bail.

A preliminary hearing before District Judge Melissa A. Amodie is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The girl is now in the custody of Lawrence County Children and Youth Services, Sgt. Seelbaugh said. The house where she was living was declared unfit for occupation, due to the lack of heat and sewage backing up in the basement.

Sgt. Seelbaugh called the case "probably the worst one I've dealt with."

For Ms. Petronelis, too, the case has been haunting.

The gap between when she discovered the images and when police began investigating continues to worry her, Sgt. Seelbaugh said the investigation indicated that no abuse had happened in that four-day window.

Still, Ms. Petronelis said, between the time she discovered the images, and when she learned of Mr. Miller's arrest, she spent days poring over Facebook trying to find his picture and driving around New Castle, searching for a house with Christmas decorations that matched an image in the tablet.

She said she remains disturbed by what she saw when she opened the camera folder.

"This is something that will stick with me for the rest of my life," she said. "I'll never forget her face. I'll always remember that little girl. I just wish that I could meet her and giver her a hug. I feel so bad for her."


Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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