COLUMBIA - [name withheld] will spend the next 18 months in a federal prison for 15 minutes worth of sex videos he made with his teenage girlfriend.
The girlfriend, who knew [name withheld] was videoing at the time, was 16– which made her a minor under a federal sex offender law meant to apply to serious sex crimes. Having the video on his cellphone meant [name withheld] violated federal law by possessing child pornography.
[name withheld]’ prison sentence, handed down Thursday, is the type of nightmare scenario that law enforcement has been warning parents and high school students about: Intimate videos and photos of young people on electronic devices can send someone to prison.
[name withheld], who was 20 at the time, had no criminal record and whose attorney said comes from a “very good family,” now will be listed on South Carolina’s sex offender registry. The registry mostly includes sex predators, stalkers, pedophiles, child pornographers and rapists. That will sharply limit his future career choices and even where he can live.
“This is the most perplexing case I’ve had in a long time,” U.S. District Judge Joseph Anderson told [name withheld], of Eastover, during the sentencing hearing at the federal courthouse in Columbia.
Anderson also gave [name withheld] 18 months in prison for making a bomb threat to Eau Claire High School in north Columbia on Nov. 2, 2011. He made the threat so he and his girlfriend, an Eau Claire student, could spend the day together without her having to skip school. The two 18-month sentences will be served concurrently.
[name withheld] used a blocking technology to disguise his cellphone number when he called Eau Claire to make the threat. But FBI investigators easily got records from Verizon that they used to identify his HTC smart phone. Once they tracked [name withheld] down, he confessed. In examining his phone, the FBI discovered the videos and charged him with making a bomb threat and child pornography.
What made the case so different from the normal child pornography case, prosecution and defense lawyers said, was that [name withheld] didn’t download the video to a computer or try to sell it or even share it with anyone. And the 16-year-old’s mother knew about [name withheld] and often let him spend the night at her house. Moreover, when [name withheld] had met the girl, she had told him she was 18.
Another complicating factor: At 16, the girl was legally able to have consensual sex under South Carolina law. But under federal law, it isn’t legal to videotape minors under 18 having sex.
“I just have a problem with a sentence that long with the facts of this case,” Anderson said, noting it would cost taxpayers $192,000 to keep [name withheld] in prison for nine years.
Ironically, the maximum sentence for [name withheld]’ bomb threat charge by itself would have only brought six months’ probation for someone with no criminal record. What allowed prosecutors to seek prison is that his two crimes were linked together – the bomb threat had been made on the cell phone with the videos.
[name withheld]’ lawyer, federal assistant public defender Katherine Evatt, had argued for a prison sentence of a year and a day, something that would be a punishment but would also take into account the peculiar facts of this case. She also told the judge that [name withheld]' left leg had been amputated – as a result of an earlier ATV accident – and “a term in prison would be harder for him. He will need special care.”
In a brief court statement, [name withheld] apologized to his family and told Anderson, “I’m sorry about everything. If I could take it back I would. This ain’t my lifestyle.”
Anderson told [name withheld] his crimes were just stupid. After the hearing, [name withheld] walked over and shook hands with Holliday and the FBI agent who handled the case. “Good luck to you,” Holliday told him.