3 hours in court, no sentence

A businessman awaits a new sentencing date on his obstruction of justice conviction.

By KEVIN GRAHAM, Times Staff Writer
Published January 24, 2008

TAMPA - Ronald Mays walked out of the federal courthouse again Wednesday without knowing his fate.

It was the second time this month that the judge continued a sentencing for the Palm Harbor businessman. He once stood accused of inappropriately touching an 8-year-old Pinellas County girl on an airplane, but that charge was dropped. He only faces sentencing on an obstruction of justice conviction.

"I'm troubled that we haven't been able to do this in two sessions," U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday said at the end of Wednesday's proceedings, which lasted more than three hours.

The judge said he and the attorneys may have underestimated how many issues would come up during sentencing.

A jury found Mays guilty of the sexual abuse charge in February, but Merryday tossed out the conviction and ordered a new trial. He said he should not have allowed testimony at trial that Mays destroyed child pornography stored on his computer.

The U.S. Attorney's Office dropped the sexual abuse charge after the girl's family said they didn't want her to endure a second trial.

Mays still faces sentencing on a guilty verdict for obstruction of justice. Prosecutors said he ran a file shredding program on his work laptop just hours before giving it to the FBI.

Investigators said they recovered at least 10 images of child pornography that Mays tried to delete and accused him of trying to destroy more.

Mays admitted to downloading adult pornography but denies viewing any child porn.

Chester Kwitowski, a computer forensic expert for the defense, said it's possible those images showed up among the thousands of adult images viewed by Mays without him ever knowing.

"It wouldn't surprise me at all," Kwitowski testified Wednesday.

At the defense's request, Kwitowski purchased the same "File Shredder Pro" software Mays used to test it. Kwitowski said he was able to recover all the images he deleted in testing the shredding program.

James Felman, Mays' attorney, said the FBI never told Mays they were investigating him on child porn charges.

"There was no such investigation," he said.

He argued that the judge should limit the prosecution's evidence to their allegations that Mays tried to hinder the investigation into the alleged plane incident.

Still to come, the prosecution's own computer experts are expected to take the stand.

A new sentencing date has not been set.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or 813 226-3433.