(RNS) — In a virtual hearing on Wednesday (May 5), a federal judge granted former reality TV star Joshua Duggar release from detention as he awaits trial on child pornography charges.
Magistrate Judge Christy Comstock at the U.S. District Court in Fayetteville, Arkansas, said her decision to allow Duggar’s release was “a close call” and comes with many conditions.
Duggar, the eldest child in a conservative Christian mega-family made famous by TLC’s 2008 – 2015 reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” was taken into custody by U.S. marshals on April 29 at the car dealership he owns in Springdale, Arkansas.
According to court documents, he was accused of downloading pornography that included the sexual abuse of children under the age of 12. He was indicted the following day and has pleaded not guilty.
Comstock ordered Duggar, 33, confined to the home of family friends who have agreed to be his custodian during his release, and she prohibited Duggar from any internet-accessing devices. He is restricted to the home with a few exceptions, including church, medical and legal appointments, and court dates. He is only allowed to see his children in the presence of his wife and cannot have contact with any other minors, including nieces and nephews.
In the four-hour Zoom hearing, Comstock noted some of the children depicted in the sexual abuse material Duggar is accused of possessing were close to the ages of his own six children.
Agent Gerald Faulkner, a federal Homeland Security agent, testified to finding dozens of pornographic images depicting nudity and the sexual abuse of children, including toddlers, on a hidden hard drive of Duggar’s work computer. Faulkner also said more than 200 images had been found on the computer that had been deleted.
The images downloaded were among the “top five of the worst of the worst that I’ve ever had to examine,” Faulkner said during the hearing.
In their investigation, agents reportedly found that Duggar had installed Covenant Eyes, a monitoring program intended to keep users from viewing pornography. The Christian-oriented program would monitor Duggar’s internet usage and send reports to his wife. However, Duggar had bypassed Covenant Eyes by hiding the material on a hard drive that was not being monitored by the program, according to Faulkner.
If convicted, Duggar could face up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000 on each count. His trial is scheduled for July 6.
Days before Duggar’s arrest, he and his wife had announced on social media they are expecting their seventh child, a girl.
The current charges are the latest in a number of sexual scandals for Duggar. In May 2015, it came to light that his father, Jim Bob Duggar, reported to police years earlier that Josh Duggar had molested underage girls while a juvenile. The molestations had allegedly occurred before the TLC show began, when Josh Duggar was 15, and records regarding the allegations had been sealed since 2006 before being obtained by In Touch magazine.
It was later revealed that four of the victims were Duggar’s younger sisters.
In a June 2015 interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News, Duggar’s parents said they were “shocked” and “devastated.”
“As parents we felt, we’re failures,” said Duggar’s mother, Michelle Duggar. “We tried to raise our kids to do what’s right — to know what’s right. And yet one of our children made really bad choices.”
They maintained, though, their son was not a pedophile because he was too young at the time of the abuses. Duggar was never charged with a crime.
After the revelations, Duggar resigned from his position at the conservative Family Research Council in Washington, a group that opposed legalized abortion and same-sex marriage.
Just a few months later, in August 2015, Gawker revealed Duggar had an active account with Ashley Madison, an online service aimed at married men seeking to cheat on their spouses.
Duggar, who married his wife, Anna, in 2008 and had four children at the time, apologized in a statement on the Duggar family website and confessed to infidelity, as well as a pornography addiction.
“I am so ashamed of the double life that I have been living and am grieved for the hurt, pain and disgrace my sin has caused my wife and family, and most of all Jesus and all those who profess faith in Him,” the statement read.
Duggar sought treatment at a Christian counseling center in Rockford, Illinois. He and his wife stayed together and went on to have two more children.
In 2008, TLC launched “19 Kids and Counting,” introducing audiences to the large Duggar family and the conservative Baptist beliefs that fueled their fecundity and influenced their parenting style. In the first season of the show, Josh and Anna, who had met in 2006 at a Christian camp, were married. Anna and Michelle Duggar were famously pregnant at the same time.
After nine seasons, the show was canceled in the wake of Josh’s molestation scandal.
In a statement on their site on Friday, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar responded to the most recent allegations against their son.
“We appreciate your continued prayers for our family at this time. The accusations brought against Joshua today are very serious. It is our prayer that the truth, no matter what it is, will come to light, and that this will all be resolved in a timely manner. We love Josh and Anna and continue to pray for their family.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.