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Buoyed by an arts community here and across the world that views his case as a fight over freedom of expression, Lawrence Brose has maintained his innocence for more than four years.

The local filmmaker, however, may be changing his plea in the high-profile prosecution that accuses him of possessing child pornography.

Court records indicate Brose, former head of the CEPA Gallery, is engaged in plea negotiations with federal prosecutors and that “it appears the parties are in agreement.”

One of Brose’s lawyers also raised the possibility of a plea deal when questioned recently by a federal judge overseeing the case.

“It looks like he’s going to be taking this,” Timothy P. Murphy, one of Brose’s defense attorneys, said of the plea agreement.

It’s not clear at this point what Brose might plead guilty to – it could be a reduced charge unrelated to child pornography – or what his possible sentence might be.

Nevertheless, the court records and Murphy’s comments are the first indication that the Buffalo artist may admit some wrongdoing.

Brose, who’s known across the world for experimental films that explore the boundaries of male sexuality, was arrested in November 2009 and accused of possessing 1,300 child porn images on his laptop.

He resigned his job at the CEPA Gallery and a year later was indicted by a grand jury on a felony charge of knowingly possessing child pornography.

Lawyers on both sides of the case declined to comment on the possibility of a guilty plea, but court records indicate they are close to a final agreement and that the outstanding issues are not “insurmountable.”

The records also indicate the next step is to schedule an appearance before Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, an assessment recently echoed by one of Brose’s lawyers.

“We just need to schedule a plea,” Murphy told U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy.

Buoyed by an arts community outraged by his arrest, Brose has repeatedly denied the allegations that he possessed child porn.

He later argued, through his lawyers, that someone else, without his knowledge or permission, used his computer to download the images.

The investigation into Brose began with a tip from law enforcement officials in Germany, who supplied Homeland Security agents here with an Internet address that had downloaded 58 images of suspected child porn.

The agents then traced the address to Brose and, after a forensic examination of his laptop, charged him with possessing 1,300 child porn images.

Brose, as part of his defense, hired his own independent forensic examiner. The results of her analysis of the laptop have never been made public.

Brose’s case has attracted the interest of the arts community here and across the world and has prompted many of his backers to suggest his prosecution is really about freedom of speech and expression.

“Lawrence Brose has the complete support of the artistic community in Buffalo, who know and respect him and his work,” Louis Grachos, former director of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, said in a letter posted on Brose’s legal defense website.

“The charges that Mr. Brose is facing, in my opinion, are unfounded and violate freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and artistic freedom – all critical cornerstones of our society,” Grachos said.

His backers also include R. Nils Olsen, a professor and former dean of the University at Buffalo Law School, and Olsen’s wife, Sandra, director of UB’s Art Galleries.

“It is critical that Lawrence continue to aggressively fight the charges and maintain his innocence,” the Olsens said in their letter of support. “While the financial cost of such a defense is ruinous, the cost of a guilty plea, the alternative to mounting a defense, is far more destructive.”

If there is a plea deal, it would end a prosecution that has taken more than its share of twists and turns.

In June 2011, McCarthy recommended the child pornography charge against Brose be dropped because of flaws in the government’s grand jury presentation.

Six months later, Skretny ruled that the federal indictment should stand.

Brose currently faces up to 10 years in prison, but a plea deal, regardless of the charge, would almost certainly reduce his sentence.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com