A three-judge bench of the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland, Florida, has ruled that pasting of face photos of 11- and 12-year old children over the heads of nude adult women doesn't amount to child pornography.

Though the images found in defendant John Stelmack's possession were disturbing, the court said they weren't child pornography.

Stelmack, a principal of Scott Lake Elementary School, was arrested following a 2007 investigation for possible inappropriate hugging of fifth grade girls. During the investigation, authorities found morphed images - faces of 11- and 12-year old girls pasted over the heads of nude adult women - in Stelmack's briefcase in a closet in his office.

Stelmack was convicted of child pornography by the trial court and sentenced to five years in prison.

However, Stelmack's lawyer, Lawrence Walters said that though such composite or morphed images amount to child pornography under the federal law, no such law exists under state law.

Moreover, the images don't fit the legal definition of child pornography because they do not depict a child engaged in sexual conduct, Walters said.

However, Diana K. Bock, an assistant state attorney general, argued that the images constituted child pornography as the purpose of creating the images was to objectify a real child and to represent sexual conduct by that child.

Once that picture was placed on that body, it changed the nature of that picture, she said.

However, on Friday, the appeals court held that the images in Stelmack's possession were not child pornography as the nude bodies were those of adults and though the faces were of children, none of the photos actually showed nude children.

Unseemly as the images in this case may be, their possession is not (outlawed in Florida) because the only sexual conduct in the images is that of an adult, Judge Morris Silberman wrote in the opinion. Judges Charles A. Davis and Marva Crenshaw concurred in the opinion.

If the state Legislature had intended to make simulated child sexual exposure illegal, it would have had to write that into state law, Silberman wrote.

The appeals court has reversed the decision of the trial court and has remanded the case with directions for the trial court to discharge Stelmack.