Child porn pedlar gets 15 years
Judge not fazed by foreign law
ROBERT de Vries, the man believed to have spent 20 years distributing large amounts of child pornography across the globe from his Johannesburg home, has been sentenced to an effective 15 years behind bars.
The sentencing attracted the attention of the US Department of Homeland Security, as US agents were the ones who caught De Vries trying to peddle his wares to US citizens.
De Vries, 57, was convicted last week on 107 charges of distribution, manufacturing and possession of child pornography at the Johannesburg High Court, after eight years of court proceedings and investigation. While he initially applied to have his bail extended pending his sentencing proceedings this week, this was denied after new images of child pornography were found on his computer and hard drives during a police raid.
He was caught in 2010 by US government agents distributing more than 296 000 images, stories and videos of under-age children in compromising positions.
However, it took years before the court found him to be definitively linked to the pornography. Throughout his trial, De Vries shifted the blame to a series of room-mates who had been living at his home during the time when he was most active in his distribution.
However, Judge Colin
Lamont found this claim of a conspiracy against De Vries to be unbelievable, considering the amount of evidence provided by State investigators linking him to the porn and its distribution.
During sentencing arguments earlier this week, State prosecutor Maro Papachristoforou brought child abuse expert Shaheda Omar to the stand to explain the potentially disastrous side- effects that child pornography distribution could cause.
Dr Omar said as child pornography made its way into the hands of paedophiles, it desensitised them. The subliminal message sent out to the paedophile was that sexual acts with children were fine, as they were normalised by the images. The children used to create the pornography would be left with unimaginably deep emotional scars.
Papachristoforou argued the court needed to give a harsh sentence to De Vries in line with global standards of sentencing for such crimes.
However, Judge Lamont was seemingly angered by this argument, saying he would “not be intimidated” by foreign jurisdiction.
Gesturing to the group of US embassy officials in the court gallery, the prosecutor argued that if the sentence was not strong enough, similar cases involving foreign countries would likely see the accused extradited and prosecuted overseas.
But Judge Lamont said that this could be a good thing, as local authorities would not have to deal with such criminals.
The judge questioned both prosecution and defence on what they believed was an appropriate sentence, as there was no definitive minimum sentence for the charges in South African legislation.
Papachristoforou suggested 25 to 30 years based on the seriousness of the charges and their number, but defence advocate Norman Makhubela asked the judge to consider De Vries’s age, suggesting 10 years.
Yesterday, Judge Lamont sentenced De Vries to 835 years in prison based on the sheer number of counts, but ruled that most of the dozens of 15-year sentences would run concurrently, meaning an effective 15 years in prison.