Man sentenced for child sex crimes

Published 6:55 pm Monday, July 13, 2009

A Chilton County man was sentenced Friday to 40 years in federal prison under a new federal child sex crimes law.

Jerry Alan Penton, 37, was the first to be tried and convicted under the anti-grooming law, a provision of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006.

“Grooming” refers to the practice of using child pornography to break down a child’s defenses to illegal sexual contact.

The sentence concludes a multi-year investigation by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation into allegations that Penton sexually abused two children, ages 6 and 8.

Agents seized nine computers from Penton’s home, along with CDs and other electronic storage media found to contain thousands of images and movies containing child pornography.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Stump, a prosecutor in the case, said grooming comes in several different forms.

“It’s anything someone can do to kind of normalize [sexual] behavior for a child,” Stump said in a phone interview.

For example, an online predator may pose as a mentor to a child in order to gain their trust. Other examples include showing pornography to children in an attempt to convince them that other children are willing participants in the acts.

In Penton’s case, it was the use of child pornography.

A federal jury sitting in Montgomery found Penton guilty on all counts Dec. 12, 2008, after four days of trial.

In handing down the sentence Friday, U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins found the following:

That Penton had engaged in a pattern of activity involving the sexual exploitation of minors

That he had knowingly distributed child pornography to a minor as an aid to illegal sexual activity

That his victims were particularly vulnerable

That the images Penton possessed included sadomasochistic depictions of young children

That Penton had not yet demonstrated any repentance for his crimes.

Watkins also considered statements from several of the child victims depicted in images found on Penton’s computer. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was able to identify many of the children as known child victims from other states and countries.

“When I was told how many people have viewed these images and videos, I thought my pulse would stop,” said one victim, now 19. “Thinking about all those sick perverts viewing my body being ravished and hurt like that makes me feel like I was raped by each and every one of them.”

As part of his sentence, upon release from prison, Penton will spend the remainder of his life on supervised release, with tight restrictions on his ability to use a computer or have contact with anyone under the age of 18.