Naked photos found on former dean of Michigan State University's College of Osteopathic Medicine William Strampel’s computer were directly interacted with before their deletion, an investigator testified Thursday during the first day of Strampel’s trial.
The photos of young women wearing MSU underwear or other MSU identifiers were found in January 2018 as part of a search warrant obtained by the Attorney General’s office after the family of Leah Jackson, a then-26-year-old medical student, complained of Strampel’s inappropriate comments at a June 2017 meeting between them.
Strampel faces two felony counts, including a second-degree criminal sexual conduct charge, as well as two misdemeanors stemming from his mishandling of disgraced former MSU doctor Larry Nassar, who sexually assaulted patients while under Strampel’s purview.
Strampel’s defense attorney, John Dakmak, said during his opening statement that just because photos were found on Strampel’s computer doesn’t mean they were his. The defense wants to raise doubt about the nature of the photos, which the state theorizes were sent from medical students to Strampel in exchange for helping them with exam appeals — a misuse of Strampel’s position as dean.
Brian Laity, a computer forensics expert with the Attorney General’s office, testified there were essentially two groups of photos. One group had been found in the “recycling bin” of Strampel’s computer, having been manually deleted in late 2018. Laity testified all the photos had been created on the computer in June 2013, and stored in a “My Pictures” file.
The other group of photos, found on a temporary extension of Strampel’s work Microsoft Outlook email, had to have been clicked on in order to save them to the computer.
Dakmak asked if it was possible for the photos to have been saved if the e-mails they were attached to had been opened up but not the attachments themselves, and Laity said no.
“Your program doesn’t automatically download (the photos) until it’s interacted with,” Laity said.
The importance of the photos lies in their connection to Strampel’s interactions with medical students. Jackson testified earlier Thursday that Strampel had talked about sexual relationships between older men and younger women, as well as talked about nude photographs, in the June 2017 meeting between the two.
The possession of nude or semi-nude photos of adult women does not constitute criminal activity. However, if the state can prove that Strampel coerced women in adverse academic situations like Jackson’s — she was seeking an appeal to allow her to retake an important exam to progress to her third year of medical school — to send him the photographs found on his computer, that would constitute criminal sexual conduct.
The trial is set to continue Friday morning inside Judge Joyce Draganchuk’s courtroom at the Veterans Memorial Courthouse in Lansing.
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