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October 22, 2014

Seventh Circuit affirms stat-max 90-year sentence for child molester despite ugly childhood

An interesting Seventh Circuit sentencing opinion yesterday in US v. Horton, No. 14-1559 (7th Cir. 2014) (available here), highlights that a horrible criminal offense can (and often likely) will lead to an extremely long prison sentence even when a defendant can presenting evidence of an unusual (and seemingly mitigating) personal history.  Here are the basics of the defendant's crime and his personal history as discussed in the Horton opinion:    

During a 9-month period while Horton was employed at Three Tigers Karate in Belleville, Illinois, Horton created 37 videos depicting himself engaging in sexually explicit conduct with three of his male students (ages 6,7,and 10),and another video showing himself trying to convince another student (age 7) to display his genitals. Horton created the videos in various places: his home, the karate studio, a public park, and the San Antonio home of one the victims....

During his formative years, Horton recounted to [psychologist] Dr. Cueno, his mother worked as a stripper and escort and would leave pornographic magazines, sex toys, and drug paraphernalia strewn around the house. His father was as an alcoholic and drug abuser. Horton watched a XX-rated movie when he was seven and acted out what he saw in the movie by having oral sex with other children. In first grade he was forced to perform oral sex on a classmate, and he began having consensual intercourse when he was 12. According to Dr. Cueno, the “roots for [Horton’s] difficulties can be traced back to a childhood where he was sexualized at an early age, had little stability, and was raised by a drug abusing, stripper/escort mother who provided him with little, if any stability.”

And here is how the Horton court explains its conclusion that a statutory maximum sentence of 90 years in prison was not substantively unreasonable in light of these facts and factors:

Horton has not demonstrated that his de facto life sentence is unreasonable. Although a sentence that is effectively for life “is not to be ordered lightly,” we have upheld such sentences where the sentencing judge recognized “the likelihood of a defendant’s death in prison, but concluded that other factors warranted the particular sentence.” United States v. Vallar, 635 F.3d271,280 (7th Cir. 2011)....  Here,the district court appropriately weighed Horton’s age and difficult upbringing,see 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1), against the “extremely serious nature of this crime” and the vulnerability of the victims, see id. § 3553(a)(1), (a)(2)(A); New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747, 758–60 & n.9–10 (1982), the need to protect the public from a dangerous child molester, see 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(A),(C), and the availability of sex-offender treatment in prison, see id. § 3553(a)(2)(D). And though Horton would have preferred the district court to have given more weight to his dysfunctional childhood, the court had the discretion to assign it less weight than the other § 3553(a) factors.

October 22, 2014 at 10:52 AM | Permalink


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Anyone with half-a-mind wouldn't have any problem with a 90 yr sentence for a criminal like this...a small step above a mass murderer.

Posted by: DeanO | Oct 22, 2014 8:05:15 PM


Cases like this is the reason they made prisons in the first place. This guy is definitely too far gone for any kind of rehabilitation. The dude is terminally broken with no spare parts to fix. Too bad that all convicted of lesser egregious sex crimes will be painted with the same brush for sensationalism by the media e.g "You see! It's just a matter of time before all escalate into their final transformation!"

Posted by: Lance Mitaro | Oct 22, 2014 11:57:12 PM

I have to agree. he's a multiple partner offender plus he's going after males all those indicators show a high risk for re-offense. so yes this is a good sentence. yes 50 years from now maybe he can take a shot at parole. with adequate controls and successful treatment while in prison.

Posted by: rodsmith | Oct 23, 2014 2:04:19 AM


Another illustration of the fact that most lawyer mitigating factors are aggravating factors. Because he started so young, it means he will never change. If protection of the public is the aim, his childhood is an aggravating factor. He was taught to have sex, the way Prof. Berman was taught to study as a child. Should we take away his high salary because of the mitigation of his childhood experiences?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 23, 2014 8:45:02 AM

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