A Douglas County judge on Thursday sentenced a 29-year-old Illinois man, who was a former dance instructor at Raintree Montessori School and the Lawrence Arts Center, to serve three years on probation for possessing child pornography on his computer.
Chief Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild questioned the effectiveness of the sex offender treatment program with the Kansas Department of Corrections and instead ordered Justin Kessel, who has since moved away from Lawrence, to undergo therapy while on probation.
“I think the best hope we have for protecting the community is to place him on probation to require that he continue with therapy,” Fairchild said.
Kessel pleaded no contest to one count of sexual exploitation of a child in July after prosecutors accused him of having child pornography images and videos on a flash drive from December 2006 to January 2007.
Kessel’s defense attorney, Angela Keck, had asked Fairchild to give him probation. Michael Allen, an assistant district attorney, argued Kessel should serve nearly three years in prison.
Kessel said during the hearing he had an addiction to adult pornography and that child pornographic images came up during his online searches and downloading of files.
“If I saw anything like that, it was only for a second or two,” Kessel said.
He said he planned to turn himself in to police in January, but his former girlfriend had called officers before he did.
Scott Slifer, a Lawrence police detective, said one video taken from Kessel’s thumb drive depicted an adult male molesting an underage girl.
“It was and is the worse piece of child pornography I have ever seen,” said Slifer, who regularly investigates computer crimes, including child pornography cases.
Robert Barnett, a clinical psychologist, said he did not believe Kessel had exhibited the behavior of a sexual predator or pedophile.
Allen argued Kessel had put himself in a position to be around children at his job as a dance instructor, but Keck said there was no evidence in the case that Kessel had touched any children.
Fairchild ordered Kessel’s therapist to give regular reports to probation officers, and he must submit his computer to police for routine testing. Kessel is also prohibited from working or volunteering with children and must register as a sex offender.
“I’m thoroughly convinced this is serious and could have gone the wrong way real quick if he hadn’t been caught,” Fairchild said. “So, frankly, that’s the best thing that happened in all of this, that he got caught before it got worse.”