TAMPA — A federal judge sentenced a Largo Church puppeteer who wrote online about child sexual torture and consumption to 20 years in prison on Monday, punctuating a criminal case whose troubling details have raised tough questions about freedom of expression and due process.
Ronald William Brown, a 58-year-old professional puppeteer who lived at the Whispering Pines mobile home park, was also sentenced to a life of surveillance after his release. He will have to register as a sex offender and be barred from areas frequented by children, U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore said.
Brown had only pleaded guilty to possessing and receiving child pornography and had never been charged with causing direct physical harm to anyone. But Whittemore agreed with prosecutors that the unusual circumstances of his case warranted a waiver of the increased prison term from 6.5 to 8 years suggested by federal sentencing guidelines.
In addition to receiving pornography, federal agents discovered that Brown had engaged in lengthy online discussions with other childhood cannibalism enthusiasts about kidnapping, murdering, cooking and eating children. , including a specific boy in his church in Largo.
Prosecutors introduced into evidence a photograph of the boy that Brown had labeled in the style of a butcher’s diagram, with different parts of his body labeled as “steaks” and “shanks.”
“Perverse isn’t a strong enough word, Mr. Brown, to describe what you’ve gotten yourself into,” Whittemore said Monday. “Depraved isn’t strong enough. … All the adjectives seem inadequate.”
Brown’s attorneys had pleaded for leniency in sentencing, noting that Brown had no criminal record and had spent decades of his adult life working with children without acting on the horrific impulses he he professed.
“He lives in a fantasy world,” Brown’s Tampa-based attorney told Judge Eric Kuske Leanza on Monday. Leanza said he was placed in the difficult position of defending thoughts his client had never translated into action. “I can’t defend things that never happened,” he said.
Brown’s puppet shows were well known in Pinellas County, where he worked with various community groups. He once had a regular job with the dummy of a ventriloquist named Marty on a Christian Television Network children’s show called junction of joy.
Prosecutors argued that Brown’s was not about garden variety pornography. Authorities say he had several images of dead children and children in bondage in his computer files. He pleaded guilty to eight counts of possessing or receiving child pornography in March.
“Mr. Brown’s interest is not just in the children,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Kaiser said. “It’s in dead children, which is quite unusual I think.” Kaiser said Brown even made contact with a local funeral home looking for work so he could rub shoulders with dead bodies. Brown had also bragged in a chat about assaulting a boy in a swimming pool, Kaiser said.
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Documents filed last week by prosecutors also claim that handwritten journals found in Brown’s home show he had “a long pattern and history of obsession with individual boys” since 1979, some of whom he knew. through his “puppet ministry” in the churches of Pinellas County. .
In 1993, diaries show that Brown became “obsessed” with a boy he knew from his puppet work and “repeatedly walked past Dunedin Middle School at 4 p.m. hoping to see him”. He noted in the papers that he “loved” another boy but “got angry with him for losing interest in the puppets”.
Kaiser said the newspaper’s patterns of infatuation, obsession and resentment were similar to those of a “teenage diary”, but for the frequent references to puppets and Brown’s thoughts on the murder of one of the boys who had caught his eye.
“Protection of the public is the final and perhaps most important aspect of this proceeding,” Whittemore said in explaining his decision. In Brown’s case, he added, “the risk is there that this obsession becomes something more than a fantasy.”
Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] Where (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.