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Wayne White | Managing Editor

TOPEKA—Following guilty pleas to three child pornography charges in October, a former Osage City Council member was sentenced to more than 17 years in a federal penitentiary last week in U.S. District Court, Topeka.

Jason Croucher, 27, Osage City, appeared in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Julie A. Robinson on May 19, guarded by two U.S. Marshals, and wearing an orange jumpsuit, handcuffs and ankle shackles.

After being indicted by a federal grand jury in June, Croucher pleaded guilty Oct. 13 to two counts of receiving or distributing child pornography and one count of possessing child pornography. During the plea hearing, Croucher admitted he committed the crimes alleged to have occurred May 11, May 14, and June 22, 2009.

Last week’s hearing was set for sentencing, but most of the day’s testimony was by Croucher, who requested the judge to consider a variance in sentencing guidelines. Croucher asked the judge to depart from the recommended 210 months in prison, reducing it to 105 months.

Under questioning from his attorney, James Chappas, Topeka, Croucher told of growing up as a gay male teenager in Osage City, and his desire not to be gay.

“As a gay person, I was afraid of my sexuality,” Croucher said. “I was hoping I wasn’t gay.”

Noting most of his high school friends had girlfriends and he did not, he said he began viewing pornography as his sexual outlet. His consumption of pornography increased, and as a young adult, he eventually turned to viewing gay pornography on the Internet, he said.

Croucher said in 2009 he faced financial difficulties and the break up of his relationship with another man. At that time, his consumption of pornography increased, he said. He said he became involved in Internet chat rooms, where he connected with others that exchanged pornography, and he learned about file sharing software and began collecting child pornography.

Croucher said that he maintained three separate identities while in the chat rooms, that of an 18-year-old female, a 19-year-old male and a 25-year-old male.

“I was pretending to be people I was not,” he said.

“You have to engage in the sort of conversation they desired,” he said of other users of the file-sharing network.

He said the procedure for acquiring child pornography became a game, and such users must “prove yourself at great length, in incredibly inappropriate detail” due to the illegality of the actions.

“I was addicted to pornography,” he said, but did not realize it until after the FBI searched his home, and he had sought counseling with a therapist.

Although Croucher told the judge, “Every last word I typed was fiction,” Robinson focused on the nature of Croucher’s chat sessions uncovered during the investigation.

“The court finds it difficult to believe … the things he talked about were just for acquiring” pornography, Robinson said. “In the court’s mind, it’s more indicative of something Mr. Croucher fantasized about, not just for obtaining pornography.”

Croucher’s arrest was the result of an FBI investigation in San Diego, Calif. The U.S. Attorney’s Office reported the FBI had taken control of an Internet account in a file-sharing network and began investigating other users that had shared files with that account. During the investigation, the FBI received child pornography from Croucher’s computer in Osage City. The U.S. Attorney’s Office reported the FBI found three folders on Croucher’s computers containing files received through the file-sharing network. One folder contained 700 images of child pornography; two other folders held 23 child pornography videos.

Questioned by the judge about why he pleaded guilty to the crimes without benefit of a plea agreement, Croucher said he knew he was guilty, and he never intended to plead innocent to the charges. He said he had stood mute during his first appearance in federal court before a magistrate judge, because the only plea the judge could accept at that hearing was not guilty. The judge entered not guilty pleas for Croucher because he would not claim he was not guilty, he said.

He said he also believed offering to plead guilty might “mitigate my exposure to charges” and that his attorney had met with assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Hart to negotiate for reduced charges.

“I wanted to do everything I could to assist the government in the investigation,” he said.

“Mr. Hart was not receptive to those exchanges,” Croucher said, but he still believed he was guilty and would eventually be incarcerated for the crimes.

“From the moment they walked into my house, I knew I was going to prison,” Croucher said.

Croucher said he requested the judge to consider a variance in the sentence because he hoped to be able to help others once he was out of prison. He said he hoped to earn a degree in psychology while in prison.
“If I had been aware of my sexual addiction … I would never have arrived at the point where I am,” Croucher said.

“I’ve made a disastrous mistake that I have a hard time believing myself,” he said. “A sentence of 20 years will make it very hard for me to bounce back and be a better person.”

Robinson spoke about the evidence in the case, saying, “This absolutely represents the worst kind of distribution,” calling Croucher’s conduct “extreme.”

Noting the case “involved video where children cried out in pain,” Robinson referred to victims of the pornography production.

“It represents the first cry in a life that might be nothing but crying,” she said.

Robinson said that although the sentence must be sufficient but not greater than necessary, “other than producing, there is no more serious offense in child pornography than procuring and viewing …”

She said the sentence she imposed needed to incapacitate the defendant “to protect the public from further crimes.”

Describing the evidence as the worst she had seen except for pornography in which children are killed, Robinson said Croucher’s crimes could have progressed “by going out and acting on it.”

Agreeing he ought to go to prison, Croucher requested the judge consider allowing him a longer supervised release period and a shorter sentence.

Noting his prior community service as a member of the Osage City Council, and his former employment in then-congresswoman Nancy Boyda’s office, as a campaign worker for Jim Slattery, and with The Osage County Herald-Chronicle, Robinson said she believed Croucher to be “salvageable.” Robinson said Croucher could receive treatment while in prison, and the term she imposed would “hopefully keep him from harming others.”

Croucher resigned as a member of the Osage City Council July 21, 2009, without giving a reason. He was elected to the position in April 2007. Croucher had been an employee at The Herald-Chronicle until he resigned in June 2008.

Croucher said during his testimony he had been incarcerated at a private prison in Leavenworth since entering his plea in October. During that time he has been in protective custody at his request, due to the nature of his crimes, the fact he is gay, and that he or the guards could not protect him from other inmates.

Concluding the hearing, Robinson sentenced Croucher to 210 months for each count of distributing child pornography, and 120 months for possession of child pornography, with all sentences to run concurrently. Robinson said she could give Croucher credit for the time he has been incarcerated since October of last year. Upon release, he will be supervised for five years, and be required to register as a sex offender. The judge did not impose a fine, but ordered Croucher to pay a $300 assessment fee.

“I apologize to my family and friends, and the people in Osage City and Osage County who have trusted me in the past,” Croucher said before the judge announced the sentence.

Croucher asked to be sent to the Forrest City Federal Correctional Complex in Arkansas, saying he would be able to receive treatment there for his addiction, and it would be close enough to his home for his family to visit. The judge agreed to make that recommendation.