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posted: 3/8/2012 4:28 PM

Judge lowers bail for Wheaton College professor charged in child porn case

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  • Donald Ratcliff

    Donald Ratcliff


Police found several videos of children who were surreptitiously recorded at playgrounds and birthday parties during last week's child pornography raid at the home of Wheaton College professor Donald Ratcliff, prosecutors said in court Thursday.

The disclosure came as Ratcliff, 60, sought and ultimately received a bond reduction from DuPage County Judge John Kinsella, who lowered bail from $750,000 to $300,000, calling the original amount "extremely high."

Kinsella also ordered that Ratcliff be fitted with a tracking device should he be released on bond. In addition, Ratcliff is barred from using computers, having contact with minors, and leaving his Carol Stream home unless it's to meet with his attorney or for medical or psychological treatment.

Prosecutor Anne Therieau called the professor a "significant risk to the community" in trying to dissuade the judge from lowering his bond. She also disclosed several new details of the ongoing investigation, including:

• Ratcliff possessed "very unusual" videos of children at playgrounds and birthday parties. Those reviewed so far did not involve sex abuse or show who made them.

• After seizing numerous computers and hard drives from Ratcliff's home office, police returned the next day to find him "attempting to put together a new computer" out of various leftover components.

• Ratcliff possessed a collection of "naturist" videos depicting children as young as 3 dancing and showing their genitals. Therieau said Ratcliff claimed the videos were known in European cultures to "combat becoming a full-blown pedophile."

• Ratcliff threatened to commit suicide after police searched his home. "As the officers were leaving, the defendant said he thought that killing himself would be the easiest way out," Therieau told the judge.

Therieau said Ratcliff, an amateur videographer, told police he taught himself to trade files online and had been downloading child pornography for about two years. She said he used "wiping software" to avoid detection.

Carol Stream police executed a search warrant at Ratcliff's Falcon Trail home on Feb. 29 after an undercover investigation. Therieau said officers had observed Ratcliff make 27 files of child pornography available for download in January and February.

In statements to police, Ratcliff said he first looked at child pornography because he was curious. Therieau said Ratcliff told police he later felt "convicted and evil," describing pedophilia as a "heinous crime."

In all, she said, police seized about 380 DVDs and four hard drives from Ratcliff's home. She said the hard drives contained at least 500 images of child pornography.

"A large number of these children are under the age of 5," Therieau told the judge.

Ratcliff, dressed in an orange jail outfit, did not speak in court other than to tell the judge he understands he must attend court dates.

Defense attorney Dan Collins said Ratcliff has the support of his family and pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, where he was a "lay leader," according to the church website. Collins cited the professor's lack of a prior criminal history and his close ties to the community in seeking a bond reduction.

"This is a 60-year-old man and we don't even have a traffic ticket," he said.

Collins argued Ratcliff would be better off receiving psychological treatment and rehabilitative services than sitting in jail. He said the defendant's wife and three adult children would try to raise bond. "This has shaken his family to its core," Collins said.

Ratcliff faces two counts of aggravated child pornography and could be sentenced to consecutive prison terms of up to seven years if convicted of both. He also is accused of possessing two unregistered firearms and 1,600 rounds of ammunition, which Collins described as "family heirlooms" Ratcliff inherited.

Since 2006, Ratcliff has been a professor of Christian education at Wheaton College. A doctorate of psychology, Ratcliff has written books and done extensive research on children's spirituality.

He returns to court March 26 for arraignment.

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