Anil Potti

A Duke student charged with obtaining and possessing child pornography is expected to appear in court next month.

Cliff Satell, a senior, was arrested in April 2009 on five counts of second-degree exploitation of a minor and five counts of third-degree exploitation of a minor. Satell obtained and possessed digital videos of preteen and teen boys engaging in sexual acts, according to the warrants for his arrest.

The second-degree charges are for obtaining the pornographic material and the third-degree charges are for possessing it, Durham County Assistant District Attorney Mark McCullough said Wednesday.

“As the legal process is unresolved, it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time,” Satell wrote in an e-mail Sunday. “I will alert you that Duke has concluded its disciplinary process regarding this matter and I am still scheduled to graduate on time in May and the school will be taking no further action.”

Satell is former vice chair of Duke College Republicans and a vocal supporter of senior Justin Robinette, the former DCR chair who alleged that he was impeached because he is gay. Satell also accused the club of improperly removing him from its listserv, but the Duke Student Government Judiciary rejected that claim.

Satell has not yet entered a plea, but McCullough said he will likely be called to court during the first week of December. McCullough said that since the case was turned over to him six months ago, he has been in the process of negotiating a plea offer with Satell’s lawyer, William Cotter.

Cotter did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Satell allegedly committed the crimes between Feb. 20, 2007 and March 24, 2009, according to the arrest warrants.

He was arrested by Lt. Greg Stotsenberg of the Duke University Police Department April 21, 2009. The magistrate originally set Satell’s bond at $175,000, but it was later reduced to $50,000. He was released from prison the day of his arrest after posting bail, according to court documents.

Since Satell was arrested about a year and a half ago, the case has been transferred to North Carolina Superior Court, but Satell has not yet appeared in court. McCullough declined to comment on the length of time of the proceedings and referred questions on that subject to Satell’s lawyer.

“I will say that court dates normally occur every 30 to 60 days, but once [a case] is in superior court, that can vary,” McCullough said.

DUPD concluded its investigation and has turned the case over to the district attorney’s office, Duke Police Chief John Dailey said. He declined to discuss details of the case, saying it would be inappropriate to do so prior to a trial.

If the case goes to trial, McCullough said he would also seek information from computer forensics experts in the Durham Police Department or the State Bureau of Investigation.

Duke administrators declined to comment on Satell’s case or his status at the University, citing student privacy laws. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act requires that universities have written permission to disclose student information or records.

In reference to student conduct cases in general, Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta said students accused of crimes are sometimes issued an interim suspension, but that such suspensions are “based exclusively on a threat to the community.”

Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek said such suspensions are typically reserved for violent crimes.

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