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Posted July 25, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

County drops charges

Man sentenced to 80 years in prison won't face local trial

By Joe Beck

The Frederick County Commonwealth's Attorney is dropping its pending case against John Stuart Dowell now that a federal court in Harrisonburg has sentenced him to 80 years in prison on 13 child pornography charges.

The county had 14 charges against Dowell that it was prepared to file in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court while awaiting the outcome of the federal proceedings.

Dowell, 47, of Santa Cruz, Calif., is a graduate of Stephens City High School and was staying at a home in Frederick County when he committed his crimes.

He was sentenced last week on 12 counts of using a child to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing pornographic videos and one count of transportation of child pornography. The victims involved a 3-year-old girl and a 5-year-old girl.

Commonwealth's Attorney Ross Spicer said the Frederick County charges against Dowell were similar to those in federal court and were a product of the same sweeping investigation that involved law enforcement agencies from Denmark to Frederick County.

Law enforcement officials zeroed in on Dowell after his sister submitted an incriminating video to the FBI in Florida. The Department of Homeland Security's Cyber Crime Center also discovered the video and found it had been downloaded in Denmark.

Spicer said Frederick County authorities obtained arrest warrants against Dowell, but did not serve them. The county wanted to retain the option of proceeding with its own case against Dowell "as a kind of backstop" if something went awry with the federal prosecution, Spicer said.

"We filed the warrants initially with the idea that we were going to hold off on having him served with the warrants until the federal case had been concluded because we were aware all along he might be sentenced to life in prison," Spicer said of Dowell. "Because that has come to pass, it wouldn't make any sense to prosecute him locally.''

Spicer said he has already filed the paperwork for scrapping the warrants against Dowell and expects it to be approved by Judge Elizabeth Kellas if she has not done so already.

Spicer said the case was prosecuted by federal authorities because they have more power to conduct investigations across state and national boundaries. Harsher sentences under federal law were another incentive for taking the case to the U.S. District Court, Spicer said.

"It was thought we would get more bang for the buck under the federal system," Spicer said.

Spicer was pleased with the 80-year prison sentence Dowell will serve.

"He's a dangerous psychopath, and the place he needs to be is prison for the rest of his life," Spicer said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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