tampabay.com

Porn charges crushed former Marine, friends say

His suicide, they say, occurred as he struggled with setbacks that came while fighting the charges.

By MICHAEL A. MOHAMMED
Published February 2, 2007


TAMPA - Tuesday was going to be Cody Lee Liberty's day of reckoning.

In June 2005, the 26-year-old Iraq war veteran had been arrested on 11 felony charges of possessing child pornography. On Tuesday, he would go to court.

He could accept a plea bargain and suffer the brand of being a pedophile for the rest of his life. Or he could fight the charges and risk up to 55 years in jail.

"I feel I'm backed into a corner and have to plead guilty, but I DID NOT commit the crimes," Mr. Liberty wrote on his MySpace Web site last Friday.

The next evening, while Gasparilla festivities filled Tampa's streets, he killed himself, police said.

Mr. Liberty's life began to unravel in October 2004 when a CompUSA technician found photos of nude prepubescent girls while working on his laptop computer. Tampa police confiscated the hard drive and arrested him nine months later.

"Except for his friends, everybody turned their back on him," said friend Bobby Blish.

Mr. Liberty, a Marine Corps sergeant, was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base after serving nine months in Iraq.

"His proudest achievement was becoming a Marine," read the funeral notice in Thursday's paper. But late last year, he received an "other than honorable" discharge. The designation denies many veterans benefits, including a military funeral, Blish said.

"It was heartbreaking for him when he got his discharge papers," said Melissa Wojnar, another friend.

Mr. Liberty was a reliable friend, said Tiffani Blish, Bobby Blish's wife. "I would have asked him to watch our 3-year-old daughter," she said.

Mr. Liberty's laptop had served as a "community computer" for many friends who hung out in his apartment, Bobby Blish said.

"Since it was on my computer they consider it mine unless I could prove where I was when the pornography was downloaded, which I can not," Mr. Liberty wrote in his online journal last Friday.

Wojnar described Mr. Liberty as clean-cut and handsome, but quick with a wisecrack.

"I took a liking to him immediately just because I'm a woman," she said.

She remembered his over-the-top karaoke performance of You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin', mimicking a scene from the movie Top Gun.

But in private he was hurting, Bobby Blish said. Some childhood friends had heard of the charges and cut off contact with him.

As friends packed Mr. Liberty's things to send to his family, they discovered neatly filed records of $30,000 in legal fees.

On Saturday, Mr. Liberty wandered away from friends during the Gasparilla parade, Blish said. When they found him, he was bloody from a fight and said he'd been attacked. His roommate brought him home.

When the roommate returned around midnight, he discovered that Mr. Liberty had shot himself.

Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mmohammed@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3404.