Framing Innocence

A Mother’s Photographs, a Prosecutor’s Zeal, and a Small Town’s Response

The unforgettable story of how innocent photographs by a mother of her child became the heart of a wrenching legal battle that galvanized a small town to fight for justice, hailed by Booklist as “fascinating . . . immediate and compelling”

“An enthralling book.” —Robert Coles

This nationally acclaimed book tells the shocking true story of how photographs taken by an amateur photographer and mother became the center of a disturbing legal battle that galvanized a community and challenged the legal system charged with protecting, not harming, children.

When Cynthia Stewart dropped off eleven rolls of film at a drugstore near her home, it didn’t occur to her that two snapshots of her eight-year-old daughter would cause the county prosecutor to arrest her, take her away in handcuffs, threaten to remove her child from her home, and charge her with crimes that carried the possibility of sixteen years in prison.

Framing Innocence brilliantly probes the many questions raised: when does a photograph of a naked child cross the line from innocent snapshot to child porn? When does a prosecution cross the line from vigorous to overzealous? When does the parent, and when does the state, know best?

Written by poet Lynn Powell, a neighbor of Cynthia Stewart’s, this riveting and beautifully told story plumbs the perfect storm of events that put a loving family in a small American town at risk.


“[A] well-written, absorbing book.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[T]horoughly and fairly reported.”
The Wall Street Journal
“Indecent photos? Or an indecent prosecution? Powell animates a troubling area of the law through the disturbing case of the Stewart family and the remarkable response of their community. Framing Innocence is a book that gets hold of you and doesn’t let go.”
—Nadine Strossen, NYU law professor and former president of the ACLU
“Beautifully restores the context to Cynthia Stewart’s photographs, and, along the way, restores the truth of a family’s life.”
—Sally Mann, photographer and author of At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women and Immediate Family

Goodreads Reviews