Calling it a “very serious and grave offense,” the state Supreme Court has upheld tough mandatory sentencing for repeat child pornography offenders by backing a 25- to 50-year state prison term imposed on a Cumberland County man.
In its ruling, the state’s highest court rejected Jeffrey Wayne Baker’s arguments that the penalty for his second conviction for possessing child porn was “grossly disproportionate” to his crime, is unconstitutional, and constitutes an unfair de facto life prison sentence.
Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed, who is president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, said Thursday that the ruling in Baker’s case will have a state-wide impact by bolstering the law mandating prison sentences of at least 25 years for second-strike child porn offenders.
“This was a serious, serious case,” Freed said. “I talked to the prosecutor who handled it. She said the images that were shown at (Baker’s) trial are still burned into her memory.”
And that trial occurred five years ago, Freed noted.
Baker, 37, of East Pennsboro Township was first charged with child porn possession in 2001. He received a 5-year intermediate punishment sentence, which he completed in September 2006.
Four months later, in January 2007, county detectives arrested him again after receiving a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that Baker had received more child porn images via computer. Dozens of video clips were seized from his home and 29 showing children engaged in sex acts were used as evidence during his trial.
“The videos were graphic,” Justice Seamus P. McCaffery wrote in the Supreme Court’s majority opinion denying Baker’s appeal. “A number of them showed very young children, some of whom appeared to be toddlers, being…raped by adult men.”
After his second conviction, Baker was deemed to be a sexually violent predator under Megan’s Law, the most dangerous type of sex offender. During a hearing on the predator issue, prosecutors introduced evidence that Baker had tried to recruit women in the Philippines to commit sex acts on children while he watched and gave directions via a webcam.
In appealing his sentence, Baker argued that it equates to an unfair life prison term. He claimed he was being punished more severely than a criminal who had actually committed a sexual assault.
Prosecutors countered that the such mandatory sentences are warranted because users such as Baker created a demand for child porn and so perpetuate that vile abuse of children. Child molesters often use child porn to groom their victims, they added.
In agreeing with the prosecutors, McCaffery cited the “devastating victimization that child pornography produces.” Criminals like Baker perpetuate its creation, he said.
“It is unacceptable inaccurate to characterize or label (Baker’s) crime as the simple possession of ‘dirty pictures’,” McCaffery wrote. “His crime is more accurately understood as secondary or indirect participation in the sexual abuse and exploitation of innocent children.”