COURT NEWS

Ex-state prosecutor sentenced to 16 years for child porn offenses

Posted March 10, 2011, at 12:36 p.m.
Last modified March 10, 2011, at 7:45 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — James Cameron had it all — devoted parents, educational opportunities, a prestigious position with the Maine Attorney General’s Office, a loving family, a home in Hallowell and a camp on a lake.

He lost it all, a federal judge said Thursday, when he went online in search of child pornography and people to share and chat about it with.

U.S. District Judge John Woodcock sentenced Cameron to 16 years in federal prison on 13 counts of sending, receiving and possessing child pornography in 2006 and 2007.

“Mr. Cameron,” Woodcock said just before imposing the sentence, “the question that remains is why. Why did you engage in this unlawful conduct? Mr. Cameron, you had so much to lose and now you’ve lost it all.”

Cameron did not react but nodded his head as if in agreement as Woodcock commented on what led to his conviction.

In a statement he read shortly before he was sentenced, Cameron apologized to his family, friends, colleagues and victims. His defense attorney, Michael Cunniff of Portland, gave a copy of the statement to the Bangor Daily News after the sentencing hearing ended.

“I am guilty and I stand here ready to face punishment with the greatest respect for the judicial process,” Cameron told the judge. “That said, I am deeply ashamed of myself and offer no excuses for my conduct.

“I also want to say that I am deeply sorry for the loss and pain suffered by all victims of sexual abuse,” he continued. “During my career, I have seen the results of this appalling exploitation first hand.”

The former prosecutor, who has been held without bail at the Cumberland County Jail since his conviction, appeared Thursday to have lost a great deal of weight while awaiting sentencing. Because the U.S. Marshals Service would not allow him to wear a belt, Cameron had to hold his slacks up when the judge asked him to stand.

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

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Malone, who prosecuted the case, recommended Woodcock impose a sentence within the guideline range. Cunniff urged the judge to go outside the sentencing guidelines and send Cameron to prison for five years — the mandatory minimum.

Malone urged Woodcock to impose a long sentence because Cameron, as a prosecutor, “flouted the law” and tried to cover up his crime by using wiping software to erase images and chats.

“The defendant committed these crimes on the backs of the taxpayers of the state of Maine,” she said. “He thumbed his nose at us. While we were paying him, he was at home downloading child pornography.”

During the trial and in documents filed prior to the sentencing, Cunniff argued that Cameron had fewer than 100 images of child pornography rather than the nearly 600 the prosecution said he downloaded. The defense attorney also said that a guideline sentence was unnecessarily harsh for a person such as Cameron who had no criminal history.

“If the government has its way, Mr. Cameron would be in prison longer than if he had raped a child or murdered an individual,” Cunniff said, referring to sentences imposed in state courts.

The maximum sentence in Maine for gross sexual assault is 30 years and the minimum sentence for murder is 25 years.

The argument over the federal sentencing guidelines, however, would not have taken place if Cameron had pleaded guilty last year instead of going to trial.

Documents filed in the case show that Cameron’s original defense attorney, Peter Rodway of Portland, negotiated a plea agreement with Malone about a  year ago for his client, but Cameron never signed the document. It called for him to plead guilty to two — transportation and possession of child pornography — of the 15 counts on which he had been  indicted by a federal grand jury in Bangor in February 2009. Although it did not indicate a specific sentence Malone would recommend, Cameron was to have agreed not to appeal the sentence unless it was longer than eight years and a month.

Cameron backed out of the deal at the last minute, according to court documents, and Rodway, who had been retained by the defendant, quit. While the deal was being negotiated, Cameron signed all of the property he owned jointly with his wife over to her and the couple divorced, according to Malone’s sentencing memorandum. Because he no longer had any assets, Cameron qualified for court-appointed counsel — Cunniff.

In the end, Woodcock found that Cameron’s guideline range was between 21 years and 10 months and  27 years and three months. He said that the departure from the guidelines was due in part to concern that has been expressed by federal judges such as himself about unusually harsh sentences in child pornography downloading cases.

Woodcock cited a case in which he sentenced a defendant to 17½ years in federal prison for downloading child pornography. Although the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the sentence because it was within the guideline range, the three judges on the appellate panel agreed that it was too harsh.

At an impromptu press conference outside the Margaret Chase Smith Building after the sentencing, Malone said she was pleased with the sentence imposed.

Cunniff said the verdict and sentence would be appealed to the 1st Circuit. The defense attorney also said he would ask that Cameron be released on bail pending the outcome of that appeal.

In addition to the prison term, Woodcock sentenced Cameron to five years of supervised release after he completes his prison term. The former prosecutor also will have to register as a sex offender.

The time Cameron has been detained since his conviction will be applied to his 16-year sentence. Once he is transferred to a federal prison, Cameron will be able to earn up to 15 percent off his sentence for good behavior.

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