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May 15, 2013

Man convicted in UM computer lab child porn case

Former Miami-Dade substitute teacher Robert DeNapoli viewed the illegal images at a University of Miami computer lab.

When a man walked into a small private room of a computer lab at the University of Miami in February 2006, lab monitor Alejandro Laza grew suspicious.

Using special software, Laza on his own computer saw in shocking real-time what former teacher Robert DeNapoli was doing: searching the Internet for “topless preteens” and “underage topless.”

“This was a room for the defendant to explore his darkest desires,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Thomas Haggerty told jurors Wednesday. “This was the room where the defendant viewed child pornography.”

The jury believed the state’s version of events, convicting DeNapoli late Wednesday on eight counts of knowingly possessing child porn.

DeNapoli was immediately jailed. He faces up to 40 years in prison and will be sentenced in June before Circuit Judge Ariana Fajardo.

Laza testified Wednesday that he captured screen shots of DeNapoli’s computer screen — 11 of which were shown to jurors.

The next month, DeNapoli returned to the lab and returned directly to the same child porn site. A computer program revealed DeNapoli tried to erase evidence from the computer’s hardrive.

After seeing DeNapoli in the lab, Laza told his UM bosses. Coral Gables detectives followed DeNapoli to Key Biscayne where they believed him to be following girls at a supermarket and a shopping center.

Detective also raided his home, seizing his computer. Oddly, they found boxes upon boxes of Grape-Nuts cereal stockpiled in every room of the home.

When confronted by police, DeNapoli said he was a fan of erotic art, saw the photos and became curious.

DeNapoli, 52, is a Harvard-educated corporate lawyer. He earned a master’s degree in elementary education from UM in 2004, and went to work as a Miami Dade public school teacher. But he was asked to resign from his teaching position because of poor performance.

A year after he graduated from UM, he began visiting the college’s computer lab.

In 2006 he began working as a Miami-Dade substitute teacher, requesting to work in elementary schools.

Defense attorney Mark Seiden argued Wednesday that DeNapoli did not email, print, distribute or otherwise use the images in any way other than viewing them.

“Evidence will show that Mr. DeNapoli did not knowingly possess these images,” Seiden told jurors. “The evidence will show that Mr. DeNapoli viewed the images, viewed the images as one might view a basketball game on TV or a picture in a museum.”

Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.

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