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Posted February 19, 2014 | comments Leave a comment

Man sentenced to 20 years in child porn production scheme

By Joe Beck

HARRISONBURG -- A federal judge Wednesday sentenced a Winchester man convicted on eight child pornography-related counts to 20 years in prison to be followed by lifetime probation.

In sentencing Brian Patrick Aronhalt, 33, U.S. District Judge Michael F. Urbanski adopted the recommendations of defense attorney Richard G. Morgan and rejected a call from prosecutors for a prison sentence of 27 years to 33 years and nine months.

"The sentence the government is asking for in this case is too much," Urbanski said.
The judge cited Aronhalt's assistance to the government in convicting another sex offender, letters from former employers and other supporters and what he described as a "candid and heartfelt" apology Aronhalt delivered in court as reasons for choosing the lighter sentence.

The most serious accusation against Aronhalt involved an Internet scheme in which he posed online as a girl and encouraged the victims -- boys of estimated ages 11 to 15 years old -- to perform sex acts in exchange for transmissions of sexual images of the girl.

"The real crux of this case is the production that took place under this scheme," Urbanski said at one point during the five-hour hearing.

Law enforcement officials from the FBI, DC Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the U.S. Justice Department investigated Aronhalt from March 2012 until the execution of a search warrant at his home at 308 Sorrel Lane on Sept. 7, 2012.

Urbanski said the sheer number of victims troubled him more than any other part of the case.

FBI special agent Dustin Hasty testified that investigators counted more than 100 victims. Hasty and prosecutors Nancy Healey and Sarah Chang said Aronhalt had played a key role in providing authorities with information about another sex offender who has since been convicted and sentenced to about 18 years in prison.

Urbanski repeatedly grilled the prosecutors over their recommendation that Aronhalt receive a much harsher sentence for Aronhalt than the other sex offender whose crime involved molesting children.

"Why should this person be sentenced to many more years than the person who admitted to being a child molester?" Urbanski asked Chang.

The judge also said emotional testimony from Aronhalt helped persuade him to follow Morgan's sentencing recommendation.

Aronhalt broke down sobbing as he apologized to the victims and his mother, who testified earlier on her son's behalf. After Urbanski called a recess, the courtroom emptied, and Aronhalt continued weeping alone at the defense table for several minutes.

Aronhalt described himself as a "monster," but also as someone who had struggled to no avail to understand and overcome his sexual deviancy.

"The only thing I can tell you is that I willed myself to believe it wasn't real, that I wasn't hurting anything," Aronhalt said.

"Aronhalt, who has been in frail health all his life, said he feared for his safety around other inmates if they discover his crimes.

"Going to prison really scares me," he told Urbanski.

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

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