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Student who downloaded naked child photos in USU computer lab gets 1 year in jail

November 24th, 2009 Posted in Opinion

By Brendon Butler

LOGAN–A Utah State University student was sentenced to one year in the county jail Monday after pleading guilty to a single second-degree felony count of sexual exploitation of a minor. Seven identical charges were dropped in a plea arrangement.

Tyson F. Stokes, 24, was originally charged in April with downloading eight pornographic images of underage or prepubescent girls in a USU computer lab. Prosecutors say Stokes posed as a 21-year-old female in Internet chat rooms, asking other girls to send naked photos of themselves. Stokes would save some sexually explicit photos to trade with in the future. Prosecutors also said Stokes masturbated to pornographic images in USU computer labs.

Stokes’ actions were initially discovered by USU Information Technology filters, which logged Stokes’ student identification number as he downloaded the photos.

Judge Kevin K. Allen sentenced Stokes to the statutory maximum of zero to five years in the Utah State Prison, but suspended the sentence in favor of a year in the Cache County Jail. He also gave Stokes a $2,000 fine and demanded that Stokes register as a sex offender.

During the unusually long sentencing process, Stokes’ attorney, Lyle Hillyard, asked that his client not be sent to state prison. He said Stokes wouldn’t find the counseling help he needs in state prison because the bad economy has forced the cutting of mental health services there. Furthermore, the nature of the charges would make Stokes a target of violence in a state prison, Hillyard said.

Orville Stokes made an emotional plea for his son, saying he felt responsible for his son’s actions and that he should have educated him about “the evils of pornography.

“I should have asked more probing questions in personal interviews with my son,” his father said.

Stokes’ father said his position with the Weber County school district could possibly help him to set up speaking arrangements for his son to talk to kids about pornography addiction.

The court psychologist said he felt Stokes was not hiding anything and had cooperated fully with the investigation.

Stokes himself said he felt sorry for taking part in the exploitation of children, and apologized to his wife and family.

After the statements, Judge Allen asked attorneys from both sides to accompany him and left the room to discuss the case in private. Stokes came to sit between his mother and his father in the gallery, putting his hand in his mother’s lap. His father pressed a white handkerchief to his eyes and bowed his head.

After 15 minutes Judge Allen returned to the courtroom to pronounce the sentence.

“I believe pornography, in general, is a scourge that has snuck up on society, catching in its wake … especially the young men,” Allen said. “The pornography addict needs more and more deviant images to satisfy his sexual desires, and child-pornography is the end-result.”

Allen said Stokes’ “complete and full disclosure” of the crime and his willingness to take responsibility was a mitigating factor in the decision, as was the fact that the eight images did not show children engaged in sexual acts. “I make a distinction between naked children versus kids in sexual acts,” Allen said.

Stokes had been studying family finance at USU, but was expelled from the school and degree-program after pleading guilty to the felony charges. He has since been able to continue his studies at USU, but was forced to change his major to one that will allow his criminal history.

Hillyard suggested that Stokes could do community service using his skills as an accountant or by speaking to schoolchildren about his mistakes. Judge Allen expressed interest in these ideas, especially in having Stokes speak publicly. He asked Hillyard to appear before the court in 90 days with Stokes and present a community-service plan for Stokes to speak about his crime to youth groups.

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