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Local man gets slightly lighter than expected sentence on child porn charge

COLUMBUS (WRBL) - A Taylor County man was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison Wednesday in federal court on one count of receipt of child pornography.

Steven Derek Dukes, 35, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land at the Columbus courthouse. Dukes was originally charged with multiple counts of receipt, distribution, and possession of child pornography. Dukes pleaded guilty to the one count in September.

Dukes was facing between roughly 12 to 15 years in prison on the guilty plea to the receipt charge. Land deviated from the sentencing guidelines and gave Dukes 121 months in prison followed by 10 years probation. Dukes must also register as a sex offender.

Land was careful to state his reasons for giving the lighter sentence than suggested in the guidelines, telling the attorneys the difference in receipt and possession in his case "makes no sense." 

The judge pointed out that if Dukes had pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography rather than receipt the sentence recommendations were 97-121 months. The judge appeared frustrated at times as he questioned Assistant U.S. Attorney Crawford Seals.

"When you look at the actual conduct, it is virtually indistinguishable from someone who is charged and pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography," the judge said. "... This court is not dismissing the seriousness of the conduct at all."

The judge pointed out he had a similar case before him where a man was facing possession with more than 12,000 videos and that person was looking at the lesser sentencing guidelines. 

In his plea agreement, Dukes admitted that he had exchanged emails with an individual under FBI investigation, in which the two discussed their past sexual experiences and fantasies involving young boys, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Georgia. Dukes also admitted to exchanging files of child pornography with the individual under FBI investigation. In May, FBI agents executed a search warrant and seized Dukes’ computer. 

Seals argued that there was a difference between the receipt and possession counts. 

"He was reaching out and texting to get porn" from a man in Philadelphia, Seals told the court. That is different than someone who was exchanging the illegal material on a peer-to-peer Internet network.

Dukes' computer was found to have 27 graphic videos and about 50 photos authorities described as child pornography, according to court testimony.

Dukes lived with his parents in Mauk, Ga. During a brief statement to the court, Dukes apologized to his parents and asked them not to come to court for the sentencing.

"I knew I was going to have to answer some tough questions and I didn't want them to hear them," Dukes told the judge.

Dukes said he had stopped engaging in the illegal activity six months before he was arrested.

"The reason why I did it was to talk to people online," he told the court.

Sex crimes involving children are despicable, said Charles Peeler, the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.

“Mr. Dukes’ case required skilled investigators to piece together his involvement in child porn. We will track down and prosecute criminals engaging in child sex crimes," Peeler said. "I want to commend the FBI for their good work.”


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