Ex-Scout leader released pending child-pornography trial

A former Orange County Boy Scout leader has been released into his mother’s custody while awaiting trial on federal pornography charges.

Brian Joseph Burnham, 36, of Chapel Hill was indicted in federal court last month on one felony count of receiving child pornography. His trial in U.S. District Court in Greensboro is tentatively set for March 9.

The indictment accused Burnham of receiving child pornography through interstate mail, shipping or transport over the past five years, beginning in January 2009 and ending on Nov. 20, 2014.

If convicted, Burnham could spend five to 20 years in prison, according to federal codes. Burnham pleaded not guilty on Feb. 11 and, in a statement filed with the court, said he has not had Internet or other conversations of a sexual nature with any minor since November.

“I have never in my life enticed a minor, solicited a minor, or touched a minor in a sexual manner,” he testified.

Evidence in the case has been sealed, but pretrial release documents show Orange County Sheriff’s Investigator Chan McDade spoke with three alleged “juvenile male victims.”

The documents quote McDade as saying “(Mr. Burnham) has not spoken face to face with the juveniles about these sexual topics. (Mr. Burnham) only talks to the juveniles about these topics via the Internet or cell phone.”

McDade also reported speaking with current and former Boy Scouts, parents and leaders, as well as current and former players, parents and coaches with the Smith Middle School baseball team. Burnham is a former coach.

The documents do not specify the content of any conversations.

“However inappropriate some of those messages may be,” Burnham’s attorneys argued, “the ones quoted do not support any inference that the defendant may have committed any sexual crimes against the minor males or attempted to entice any of the minor males to do so.”

Burnham was a longtime assistant scoutmaster with the Occoneechee Council’s Boy Scout Troop 845 in Carrboro. John Akerman, an Occoneechee Council spokesman, has declined to comment about Burnham’s arrest.

Troop 845 members in recent years have teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in Guatemala, participated in cross-country biking trips to raise money for cancer research and enjoyed hiking trips through Spain.

Burnham’s attorneys have submitted 33 letters from friends, family and former Scouts attesting to his good character, community contributions and dependable, loyal nature. Most had know Burnham for many years; all were aware of the charges.

Burnham, as a condition of pretrial release, cannot use cellphones, cameras, camcorders or the Internet. He must keep a written log of all phone calls made or received, outside of conversations with his attorneys or probation officer, and cannot speak by phone with children under age 18.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joe Webster also ordered Burnham to wear an electronic monitor while under 24-hour incarceration at his mother’s home in Matthews. He cannot be alone with anyone under age 18, including his siblings, the judge ordered, or use alcohol, among other conditions.

His previous record includes only a charge for driving with an expired registration sticker in 2008.

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