Child porn case against former state police captain from Amherst inches ahead

Hampshire County Courthouse

Hampshire County Courthouse GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 06-19-2024 3:12 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Legal proceedings in the case of a retired State Police detective captain accused of eight counts of possessing and distributing child sexual abuse material have moved slowly since charges were first brought.

Francis Hart, 64, was arrested at his Amherst home in August 2021 following an investigation by State Police Cyber Crimes Unit and the attorney general’s office following information received from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

He was indicted in December 2022 on seven counts of possession of child pornography and one count of dissemination of child pornography. Investigators allege that Hart sent images of a child in the nude from his iPhone to another person outside of the state.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released after posting $2,500 cash bail with the conditions that he have no contact with any child under the age of 18 and have no internet access other than on public devices that prohibit access to illegal sites or illegal content.

Hart had been a trooper assigned to the state fire marshal’s office, and a Massachusetts State Police detective captain before retiring.

During the arrest, several of Hart’s devices were seized, including desktop computers, external hard drives and an iPhone.

Stephanie Jimenez, a special assistant attorney general on the case, said Tuesday that the large number of digital devices involved had made it time-consuming for the digital evidence laboratory to sort through the voluminous amount of evidence in the case.

That process is now complete, she said, and prosecutors are preparing to share the evidence they’ve uncovered with defense attorney David Hoose.

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However, Hart’s health is also apparently a concern. He has been excused from appearing at prior court hearings, and a status conference scheduled for Tuesday was held administratively, with a further hearing set for Aug. 14, “due to the defendant’s health issues,” according to court filings.

The case is being prosecuted by Jimenez and Assistant Attorney General Amanda Paull.