Appeals court lowers bond for Strongsville priest accused of possessing child pornography
By Cory Shaffer
December 31, 2019
|The Rev. Robert McWilliams, of Strongsville, is under investigation in Geauga County on accusations of posing as a stranger to extort children he knew into sending him nude photographs, a prosecutor said.|
An appeals court on Tuesday reduced the bond for a Strongsville Catholic priest accused of sending and receiving child pornography.
A three-judge panel at the 8th District Court of Appeals unanimously agreed to grant the Rev. Robert McWilliams’ writ of habeas corpus and lowered his bond to 10 percent of $50,000.
The decision by Judges Sean C. Gallagher, Mary Eileen Kilbane and Kathleen Ann Keough means McWilliams will have to pay $5,000 plus fees to secure release from the Cuyahoga County Jail. He will have to wear a GPS ankle monitor if he leaves jail.
McWilliams is being held on three counts of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material and one count each of pandering sexually oriented material involving a minor and possessing criminal tools.
McWilliams’ bond had originally been set at $100,000 following his Dec. 5 arrest at St. Joseph Church. Common Pleas Court Judge Sherrie Miday lowered the bond to $50,000, and McWilliams filed a motion to get the bond reduced to either $5,000 or 10 percent of $50,000.
Common Pleas Court Judge John J. Russo denied that request last week, leading McWilliams to appeal to the 8th District on Friday. McWilliams’s lawyer argued that he posed no danger to the community and would show up for court, and that the only reason he was being held in jail was because he didn’t have enough money to post the bond.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley’s office objected to any lowering of McWilliams’ bond, arguing that it was not excessive given the seriousness of the crimes he is accused of committing.
The charges against McWilliams involved incidents that happened from April 2016 through his arrest on Dec. 5, 2019, according to court records.
Ohio Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force officers on Dec. 5 raided McWilliams’ living space and office in the rectory at St. Joseph Church on a search warrant out of Geauga County. They seized electronic devices, including a cellphone, iPad and laptop associated with McWilliams, the diocese said in a statement later that day.
Officers found additional images of child pornography on the devices that were not connected to the Geauga County investigation, which led to the charges in Cuyahoga County, Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Carl Sullivan said.
Authorities in Geauga County believe McWilliams was using a second cellphone number to contact children he knew so he could pretend to be someone else, and use extortion to get the children to send him nude photographs, Sullivan said during a Dec. 17 court appearance.
That investigation remains ongoing, prosecutors said.