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Man's disability does not reduce child pornography sentence

Despite arguments from his defense attorney that a western Pennsylvania man's medical condition forced him to take huge amounts of pain medication, which rendered him incapable of reoffending, the judge in the man's child pornography trial sentenced him to eight years in prison on May 1.

The defendant suffers from reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a condition brought on by a work injury sustained when he was a firefighter. According to his defense attorney, the defendant, 51, has constant leg pain and his ability to walk is sometimes affected. He takes enough pain medication "to kill a cow," his physician said in a video message played at the sentencing hearing. The doctor said it would be "cruel" to put the defendant in prison due to his condition.

The defendant was convicted of possession and distribution of child pornography. Prosecutors also said he asked an undercover FBI agent who he thought was the mother of a 9-year-old girl to commit sex acts on the girl.

At the hearing, the defendant promised never to use the Internet again. His attorney argued that, if he is barred from using a computer, his client would not be able to commit any more crimes. He asked the judge to deviate downward from the federal mandatory minimum sentence of 10 to 12 years and hand down a five-year sentence instead.

The judge acknowledged that the mandatory minimum is excessive in some cases, but said that the defendant "is not in that category" because of the encounter with the FBI agent, as well as the fact that he traded child pornography, as opposed to just viewing it. Still, he went below the mandatory minimum by two years.

Besides the prison sentence, the judge ordered that the defendant be on federal probation for 10 years and be permanently barred from unsupervised interaction with children and from using a computer.

This case shows how difficult it can be for a prison sentence for child pornography to be reduced from federal mandatory minimums, which tend to reduce judges' powers to consider individual circumstances.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Child-porn conviction nets man 8 years in prison," Rich Lord, May 1, 2012

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