Miami-Dade County

Citing autism, Miami judge grants child porn suspect bail

A few years ago, the father of Alberto “Tony” Rodriguez caught his son watching child pornography on the Internet, authorities say.

Although he tried to stop his autistic son, Rodriguez would continue to download hundreds of images of sexually explicit videos and chat with other Internet users with the same tastes.

In mid-September, federal agents raided his parents’ North Miami area home and confiscated two laptops loaded with incriminating evidence, a prosecutor said Thursday in Miami federal court. Rodriguez, 24, told the agents that he knew that the Internet porn, which depicted men with children, was “illegal” but that he was “addicted,” the prosecutor said.

Despite that admission, Rodriguez gained his pretrial freedom from a Miami magistrate judge, who concluded that he was better off at home supervised by his parents than being held at the Federal Detention Center.

Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres rejected a detention request by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kobrinski, who argued that Rodriguez would be a “danger to the community” if he were granted a bond while awaiting trial. Kobrinski asserted that Rodriguez’s appetite for Internet child porn was “escalating.”

“I just don’t see where else he could go,” he said.

But Torres, in a rare decision for a child porn offense, disagreed with the prosecutor. “I am of the view that the danger to the community [concern] would be satisfied by strict conditions,” the judge said.

Among them: 24/7 babysitting by his mother; no access to the Internet; no contact with children; electronic monitoring; and a competency evaluation to see if he’s able to stand trial.

Rodriguez’s criminal defense attorneys, Joel Hirschhorn and Alexander Strassman, who are representing him for free, persuaded the judge to keep him at home on a $50,000 bond after presenting a sobering psychologist’s report.

The report revealed that Rodriguez, a graduate of North Miami Senior High School, has an IQ of 73 and the emotional maturity of a 10- to 12-year-old child with “high functioning autism.” He graduated with a 2.0 grade point average.

Both defense lawyers argued that Rodriguez’s parents — as well as high school psychologists — misdiagnosed his autistic condition. In high school, Rodriguez was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.

“If the parents testified, they would say that they really didn’t understand his problem,” Hirschhorn told the judge, adding that the recent federal raid on their home was a “wake-up call.”

His colleague, Strassman, challenged the prosecutor’s claim that Rodriguez’s Internet child-porn problem was getting worse. He offered an explanation for his client’s alleged misconduct.

“The Internet has created an opportunity for people with autism like Tony to be social — and that includes sexuality,” Strassman said.

“He relates to things that are childish in nature,” Strassman said later in Thursday’s hearing.

Both the defense lawyers and prosecutor agreed on one point: that Rodriguez needs a competency evaluation before trial.

Hirshhorn said that he plans an “insanity defense” if Rodriguez must go to trial. An indictment charges him with receiving images of child pornography on two laptop computers, accessing sexually explicit images and possessing them on his hard drives.

Each charge carries up to 20 years in prison.