Internet Child Pornography Nets a Pair of Stiff Sentences for Two Local Residents
|U.S. Attorney’s Office June 16, 2010|
MONTGOMERY, AL—Two men who knowingly received child pornography over the Internet were sentenced today to serve significant federal prison terms, Leura G. Canary, United States Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, announced. Donald Earl McCain, 49, formerly of Millbrook, Alabama, was sentenced to a term of 14 years. Montgomery resident, James William Brunson, 33, received a sentence of 15 years. Both men had previously pled guilty to the charge—a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 2252A(a)(2)—pursuant to written plea agreements.
U.S. Attorney Leura G. Canary stated, “These sentences should send a strong message to child sex offenders that the exploitation of our children will not be tolerated in the Middle District. This office will continue to vigorously prosecute these offenders to the fullest extent of the law.”
Mr. McCain first came to the attention of law enforcement in 2004, when the Kansas City Division of the FBI discovered that someone using his e-mail address had purchased a subscription to a known child pornography website. In a subsequent interview, McCain admitted to federal agents that his computer contained images of child pornography but insisted that he had been working with an individual named “Nigel” from England’s Scotland Yard to help close down various child pornography websites. When questioned further, however, McCain was unable to provide full names or phone numbers for any authorities with whom he was allegedly working. A forensic examination of McCain’s computer revealed thousands of child pornography images, a majority of which depicted children under the age of 12 years engaging in sex acts. Some of the images appeared to have been downloaded directly from the known child pornography website.
The federal case against Mr. Brunson, by contrast, began with a child molestation investigation involving multiple minors in Montgomery and Elmore Counties. During the investigation, Brunson voluntarily disclosed that he had used his computer to download sexually explicit images of underage girls from the Internet. A state search warrant was subsequently obtained, and dozens of child pornography images and several video clips were recovered from the hard drive of his computer.
In both cases, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was able to identify a number of the children depicted in the illicit images. Several of the child victims submitted written victim impact statements to the Department of Justice for use at sentencing hearings. One such victim described how, in addition to perpetuating her own sexual exploitation, the images taken of her are likely being used to facilitate the sexual abuse of other children: “I am horrified by the thought that other children will probably be abused because of my pictures. Will someone show my pictures to other kids, like my uncle did to me, then tell them what to do? Will they see me and think it’s okay for them to do the same thing? Will some sick person see my picture and then get the idea to do the same thing to another little girl? These thoughts make me sad and scared.”
The Honorable W. Keith Watkins, United States District Judge for the Middle District of Alabama, presided over both sentencing hearings and called the victim impact statements “powerful.” The 168-month prison term he imposed on Mr. McCain fell within the range recommended by the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines and well above the 5-year statutory minimum. Although the defense asked for a lesser sentence, Judge Watkins denied the request, noting that Congress has recognized the seriousness of child pornography crimes and that McCain’s child pornography collection was extensive and “disturbing.” The sentence also reflected the fact that McCain had absconded from pretrial supervision, shed his ankle monitor, and fled to North Carolina, where he was found working at a carnival under a false identity.
Later in the afternoon, Judge Watkins sentenced Mr. Brunson. In deciding on a prison term of 180 months—a sentence that also fell within the range prescribed by the advisory Guidelines—Judge Watkins followed the recommendation of the United States Probation Office and the terms of the parties’ plea agreement. Negotiated among the Office of the United States Attorney, the District Attorney for Elmore County, and the District Attorney for Montgomery County, the plea agreement stipulated a 15-year federal sentence and also calls for Brunson to receive two concurrent 20-year sentences in Alabama state court on the pending molestation charges.
Drawing a distinction between the two cases, Judge Watkins observed that, although Brunson’s child pornography collection did not rise to the level of McCain’s, his sentence had been increased because of his history of sexually abusing minors. The court also noted that, unlike McCain, Brunson had not advanced and persisted in a “cockamamie” defense.
After their prison terms are completed, both men will be required to register as convicted sex offenders and keep their registrations current in all jurisdictions in which they work, reside, or attend school. As part of their sentences, both men will also spend the rest of their lives on supervised release.
These cases were brought as part of Project Safe Childhood. In May 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice launched Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse. Led by United States Attorneys’ Offices, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov/.
The investigation of Mr. McCain’s case was conducted by agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Kansas City and Mobile, with assistance from the United States Marshals Service. Mr. Brunson’s case was investigated by the Montgomery Police Department, working in tandem with the Eclectic Police Department and the Alabama District Attorney’s Association-Office of Prosecution Services, and Child Protect, the children’s advocacy center in Montgomery. Both cases were prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Nathan D. Stump.