Prosecutor seeks long sentence for ex-AG on child porn charges

Posted March 08, 2011, at 7:26 p.m.
Last modified March 08, 2011, at 8:32 p.m.
Former Assistant Attorney General James Cameron speaks during a 2001 interview with WGME-TV of Portland. Photo courtesy of WGME-TV.
Former Assistant Attorney General James Cameron speaks during a 2001 interview with WGME-TV of Portland. Photo courtesy of WGME-TV.

BANGOR, Maine — A federal prosecutor thinks the man who was Maine’s top drug prosecutor should be behind bars for at least 21 years.

The attorney for the former assistant attorney general believes his client should spend no more than five years in federal prison on child pornography charges.

How much time James M. Cameron, 48, of Hallowell serves will be decided Thursday by U.S. District Judge John Woodcock in federal court in Bangor.

On Aug. 23, Woodcock found Cameron guilty on 13 counts of sending, receiving and possessing child pornography in 2006 and 2007 after a jury-waived trial in U.S. District Court in Portland. Since then, Cameron has been held without bail at the Cumberland County Jail.

Sentencing memorandums filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Malone, who prosecuted the case, and Cameron’s attorney, Michael Cunniff of Portland, reach vastly different conclusions about what sentence Woodcock should impose.

Cameron faces a minimum of five years in prison. Under the prevailing, but advisory, federal sentencing guidelines, his recommended sentence is between 21 years and 10 months and  27 years and three months, according to court documents.

The federal sentencing guidelines were created by Congress in 1987 as a way to ensure consistent punishment throughout the country, according to The Associated Press. Judges consult a one-page grid full of numbers that determine sentences based on the level of the offense and the defendant’s criminal history. In addition, judges use a presentence report, which is not a public document, prepared by the U.S. Bureau of Probation and Pre-trial Services that contains detailed information about a defendant’s background and the crime to determine where on the guideline range a defendant falls.

Although judges must explain their reasons for imposing nonguideline sentences, the guidelines are advisory, not mandatory. Woodcock does not routinely depart from the guidelines.

The judge has handed down sentences in 35 child pornography cases since 2006, according to Malone’s memorandum. He has gone below the guideline range in 10 of them and above the guideline range in one. The average departure, the prosecutor said, was 26 percent below the guideline range, not the the 77 percent Cunniff has suggested in seeking a five-year sentence.

All of those defendants, however, pleaded guilty to some or all of the counts with which they were charged rather than going to trial. Under the sentencing guidelines, a defendant’s guideline range goes down if he enters a guilty plea.

Factors outlined in the guidelines that could lengthen a sentence in a child pornography case such as Cameron’s include having the images on a computer, the number of images downloaded, whether they were traded for other images or sold, and the nature of the images. Sentences are increased when the child pornography depicts prepubescent children, intercourse between adults and children and sadomasochistic images.

Malone argued in her sentencing memorandum that in Cameron’s case, all those factors apply. She said that Cameron traded or possessed at least 547 images, some of which depicted babies and young children being victimized and tried to erase them using wiping software.

Defense attorney Cunniff, however, maintained that many of the images included in the prosecution’s calculations are duplicates, and that just 94 images should be counted against Cameron. Cunniff also argued that most of the images of child pornography were found in Cameron’s deleted files, showing that his intent was not to save or share them.

Finally, the defense attorney said a guideline-range sentence was too harsh.

No matter how the disputes over the number of images downloaded and the nature of those images are decided, Cameron’s character, his former job as a prosecutor and his actions since his arrest will be seriously scrutinized by Woodcock.

“It is the combination of his offense and personal circumstances showing that the defendant is untruthful, deceptive and manipulative that speaks loudest to his risk of recidivism,” Malone wrote, pointing out that Cameron was home downloading child pornography when he was supposed to be working. “He took an oath to uphold Maine laws.”

“His job required him to protect children,” she added. “Instead, he collected and traded [child pornography] images to satisfy his own sexual desires. He often did so during work when he was supposed to be prosecuting drug offenders. He wiped evidence of these crimes from his computer and he hid his extensive collection of [child pornography] in cyberspace.”

Citing the pre-sentence report, Cunniff offered an explanation for Cameron’s behavior and called it “a perfect storm of stress, distress and anxiety.” The attorney said the aging of his parents, both of whom died in 2008, the demands of his work in the Attorney General’s Office, his commitment to write a book and a change in medication that aggravated his obsessive-compulsive disorder led to Cameron’s downloading and sharing of child pornography.

“The reasonableness of Mr. Cameron’s sentencing proposition is evident from the circumstances underlying the counts of conviction in his case,” Cunniff wrote.

Although Woodcock has not indicated what sentence he might impose, the judge has denied Cameron’s motion for a new trial and refused to release him on bail while awaiting sentencing.

Cunniff has said his client’s conviction and sentence most likely will be appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

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