DA: Justice served in Eiland’s plea deal

Published 6:47 pm Thursday, May 15, 2014

District Attorney Walt Merrell said despite evidence that showed a 49-year-old woman had pornographic photographs of more than one teenage boy, he feels justice was served with her plea to one charge of possession of obscene matter, for which she received a 10-year-sentence Thursday.

The process, the district attorney said, spared her victim and others the indignity of testifying in court.

Ashley Bostwick Eiland, 49, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of obscene matter before presiding Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan Thursday afternoon.

Her 10-year sentence is the maximum allowed by law for the charge against her, and she also must register as a sex offender. Eiland has applied for probation, and McKathan set a hearing for June 19, 2014.

Investigators with the District Attorney’s office and the Andalusia Police Department initiated the investigation against Eiland in December after Chief Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter received information that Eiland was in possession of nude images of a child less than 17 years old.

On Dec. 5, 2013, investigators from the two agencies executed multiple search warrants on Eiland’s home and workplace. Several items of potential evidence were seized and later delivered to the National Computer Forensic Institute in Hoover, Ala., according to a statement released by the DA’s office late Thursday.

The results of that analysis revealed that there were numerous photographs of children under the age of 17 years on a Dell laptop computer, which had been seized from Eiland’s workplace, the statement said. The forensic analyst determined that the images originated from a cellular telephone belonging to Eiland and had been stored as a back-up on the laptop.

Merrell stated that the evidence showed Eiland was involved in a relationship with one particular 16-year-old male. Merrell said that the digital evidence recovered from Eiland’s phone and laptop showed that the nature of the relationship was consensual and sexual in nature. Merrell said these “messages” between the 16-year-old and Eiland demonstrated that she possessed the graphic images, not by happenstance or accident, but because it was part of the ongoing sexual relationship.

In a statement released by his office, Merrell said, “This case involved several families, and I’m relieved that a juvenile did not have to take the stand and endure the embarrassment of personal testimony. It is bad enough that someone, who was supposed to be a responsible member of society, took advantage of him at such a young age, but for him to have to testify about it all over again is an indignity I hoped to avoid.”

Merrell noted Eiland was not charged with statutory rape because in order for that charge to apply, the victim has to be under the age of 16 at the time of sexual intercourse. In this particular instance, the victim had already turned 16. Merrell stated that investigators “found where [Eiland] researched on the internet to determine how old someone had to be before she could ‘legally’ have sex with them. She knew what she was doing. She is a predator.”

In the plea agreement, the DA agreed not to pursue any other charges against Eiland that stem from this investigation.

Merrell explained that “there were other potential victims and other pieces of information that showed relationships with other people. In exchange for her guilty plea, we agreed to not continue our investigation into those endeavors.”

He said his office reached out to the parents as a measure of precaution, before entering that agreement.

“By only proceeding on this one charge, we spared a lot of people the embarrassment and the turmoil of having to go through the Court process, and ultimately justice has been served,” Merrell’s statement said.

Eiland is represented by Dothan attorney Adam Jones.