Crystal Buckner, pictured here in October, said her 8-year-old told a therapist that her ex-husband showed their daughters pornography on his computer. The case made its way from child protective services to the district attorney — who faced a legal conundrum under Texas law.
Crystal Buckner, pictured here in October, said her 8-year-old told a therapist that her ex-husband showed their daughters pornography on his computer. The case made its way from child protective services to the district attorney — who faced a legal conundrum under Texas law. Amy Gutierrez/AP
Crystal Buckner was waiting in a therapist's office last summer for her 8-year-old daughter to finish a session. The child had been having behavior problems — anger, acting out. At the end of this session, the therapist came in looking grim.
"The counselor put the kids in one room and called me into her office and said, 'Crystal, you need to sit down,' " Buckner recalls. Buckner's other daughters were there for counseling, too.
Buckner says her daughter had told the counselor that late one night at her father's house, he'd shown his daughters pornography on a computer.
"When he called them over, it was a live webcam of a woman by herself and Daddy was typing to her what to do," Buckner says.
The live webcam action was followed by exhibitions of other online video pornography. The pornography was all adult. The girls reported that their father, Crystal's former husband, Jack A. Buckner II, said he was showing them the pornography because sex was something they needed to know about.
The girls kept it secret for months, but the 8-year-old eventually told her therapist — and after informing Crystal Buckner, that therapist called child protective services in northern Texas.
Tricky Language In The Texas Penal Code
The case landed on Randall County District Attorney James Farren's desk. And there it sat for months, a legal conundrum.
"It is not illegal to possess adult pornography," he says. "It is not illegal to look at adult pornography regardless of how we may feel about it morally or philosophically."
But Farren wanted to prosecute the father. The Texas penal code allows prosecution of anyone who sells or shows harmful material to a minor. And the law stipulates that pornography is considered harmful. The law was written in 1973, but it came with one important caveat, Farren says: It doesn't allow prosecution when the child was accompanied by a consenting parent or guardian.
In this case, not only was the minor accompanied by a parent during the exhibition, but the parent was the exhibitor. Nevertheless, Farren says he was willing to take his chances with a West Texas jury anyway. But there was a hitch.
"If the judge is made aware of that, I won't even get to a jury," he says. "He'll give me an instructed verdict."
Farren is unhappy with the language in the Texas penal code. So he has charged the father with a different crime — child endangerment, a felony punishable by up to two years in prison. To get a conviction, Farren will have to prove the father put his daughters in "imminent danger of mental impairment" by showing them pornography. It may be a long shot, the D.A. says, but he's going to try.
The Issue Of Parental Intent
George Dix, a law professor at the University of Texas, is less enthusiastic about the state's putting itself in the middle of this situation.
"It may be impossible to define with precision what a parent should be permitted ... to provide to a child in the course of 'the talk,' " he says.
Dix says cases like this one speak to the issue of parental intent: Was the father really trying to educate the girls, or was it sinister? Educational intent is also a defense under Texas law. This can be a tricky area for a prosecutor to wander around in. And then there's the fact that parents who are divorced are often hostile to one another and motivations can be twisted.
"These situations often involve disputes as to parental rights," he says. "They pose a difficult problem for prosecutors in deciding whether or not there really is a public reason for prosecution."
Indeed that is the case here. In the aftermath of the alleged porn revelations, Crystal Buckner is seeking to alter the child-custody agreement, which previously had the three girls living with their father.
Jack Buckner II declined to comment about the case. His current wife, Jennifer Buckner, told NPR the exhibition was a one-time occurrence. She said her husband knew the next day he'd made a mistake attempting to educate his young daughters by using computer pornography.
And District Attorney Farren knows that in conservative West Texas, people are wary of aggressive government intrusion into matters that could be seen as private.
But he says his constituents are disgusted by the case, and so is he.