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More Details On Ex-Lawmaker's Lenient Child-Porn Sentencing

by Stephen Dark
- Posted // 2013-09-04 -

On Aug. 13, 2013, in Utah's federal court in Salt Lake City, a man who had pleaded guilty to child-porn and marijuana possession walked free from court. A transcript of the sentencing hearing reveals why.

Jeffrey Vern Fox is a former Utah legislator—he represented Salt Lake City as a Democrat—and a longtime homeless advocate, whose career included leading Utahns Against Hunger and director of the Crossroads Urban Center for 10 years.

He went before U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups after pleading guilty to a single count of child-porn possession and another count of possession with intent to manufacture and distribute marijuana.

DEA agents had gained a search warrant into the 65-year-old's house after seeing marijuana plants in his back garden. They found not only 16 pounds of marijuana, but on his computer screen a story involving incest between an aunt and two nephews. They also discovered between 150 and 300 child-porn images, involving a range of "post-pubescent teenage-type minor, minor girls and boys," U.S Attorney's prosecutor Carol Dain told the court.

Dain asked for a sentence of 41 months, at the bottom end of the federal guidelines for Fox's type of offenses. She acknowledged that Fox appeared to be "attracted and lonely for adult, an older adult-female companion perhaps."

She noted that Fox was "not our worst offender," his child porn not exhibiting the "magnitude" she saw regularly, "nor the violent and sadistic pictures that we see of very small children." But still, she added, that he possessed images of child porn meant he had to seek them out. She argued that the prison sentence would mean he'd receive treatment to address his "deviant sexual interest in children or minors."

Fox's attorney Ronald Yengich argued that Fox is "unique" in terms of the type of personality typically to be found appearing before federal court on such charges. Fox has significant "physical-health issues" due to a 2007 stroke in 2007 that limited his ability to defend himself in prison. He is "an extremely frail man" who self-medicated his post-stroke depression and anxiety issues with marijuana.

Fox, Yengich told the court, "is a kind man, he is a gentle man, he is not a dangerous man physically," but rather "extremely nervous, he is extremely anxious."

Post-stroke, Fox had isolated himself for several years in an increasingly rundown house. Yengich indicated that the friends and relatives in the courtroom for the sentencing were there not only to show support for Fox, but also to indicate their commitment to caring for him and ensuring he did not relapse into his prior behavior, if the court were to "not incarcerate him and grant him that grace."

Yengich argued that Fox merited release. "If Mr. Fox were to deal with his mental-health issues, if he were to get the psychological-psychiatric treatment for the sexual problem that he has, and if he were to continue to take his medication and also begin to develop some ability to to pay back for what he did through community service or other means, and if he continued with the support of the community that he has, it seems to me that that is rough justice, but it is justice in Mr. Fox's case."

Fox told the court of his shame and humiliation. "I never had any sexual interest in children." He recalled playing "hide and chase and water fights" with his young nieces, but that now "many people will never trust me for the rest of my life. It is painful. I caused this. This is my responsibility."

Waddoups described sentencing cases such as Fox's "as the most difficult thing we are called to do." The 41 to 51 months federal guideline sentencing was a "starting point," he said, before noting that 63 of Fox's 65 years of life were "in many respect [...] a model," of good citizenry.

He said Fox's accessing of the child porn had been "somewhat stale," and that according to his psychosexual evaluation, Fox's risk of repeating such crimes was low. He touched on how Fox had responded well to treatment and medication and had begun repairing his home, and noted concerns over how well he might do in general population in the prison.

While Waddoups acknowledged that sentencing Fox to only the prison time he had already served post-arrest might lead to concerns that "this kind of serious behavior has simply been ignored by the court as not being serious enough," he said he felt the best course was to give him "time served with a serious and strict monitoring program requiring continued treatment, with the admonition that if he slips into isolation and [such] behavior again," it would result in incarceration.

He sentenced him to 15 years supervised probation, to include a sex-offender treatment program, a drug program, no contact with minors unless supervised, home detention for six months, and 10 hours a week of community service, to continue until he had completed 500 hours.

Waddoups concluded by telling Fox that it "seems to me that you have many talents to offer, and it is a waste of a valuable human being to not have you make contributions."

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