The Arkansas man who pleaded guilty to recording himself sexually abusing his girlfriend’s 5-year-old daughter as she wore “Hello Kitty” underwear was sentenced Monday to spend the next 30 years in federal prison.
Aaron Lloyd Mitchell, now 25, had been under investigation since Nov. 3, 2018, when a tipster reported to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children that someone “may be currently molesting 5-year-old and 13-year-old and posting pics” of the abuse on Tumblr, according to the federal complaint. Further FBI investigation of the metadata on the illicit images posted on Tumblr revealed that the crimes were recorded on an iPhone 7 Plus (which Mitchell owned) in rural Foreman, Arkansas (where Mitchell lived).
Using the iPhone, the Ashdown man recorded himself sexually abusing the 5-year-old girl as she wore “Hello Kitty” and “sprinkled doughnut” panties. Mitchell’s genitals were visible in images he posted, the feds said. The FBI indicated evidence of child pornography production was so damning that Mitchell, when confronted, admitted to committing crimes against both the 5-year-old and a 13-year-old girl, whom he took pictures of as she slept. The teen girl was also in her underwear, authorities said.
“On November 21, 2018, FBI agents conducted a search of Mitchell’s residence. During a post-Miranda interview, Mitchell admitted to producing the images of the five-year-old and uploading them to the internet,” the Department of Justice said. “On December 13, 2018, Mitchell was indicted on multiple charges involving the sexual exploitation of a minor. On June 20, 2019, Mitchell pleaded guilty to production of child pornography.”
Prior to sentencing, the government and defense sparred in particular over images of the 13-year-old and whether those images were, in fact, child pornography under the law.
The government’s sentencing memo made clear that the images did violate federal law.
“A 13 year old child is in the photo referenced in Count Three of the Indictment, which was returned on December 13, 2018. During the initial photos received by law enforcement from the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), there included an image of a 13 year old asleep on her bed wearing a t-shirt and panties. Mitchell’s erect penis is exposed in the foreground of the photograph. Along with that image were additional images which appeared to be taken around the same time of close-up images of the 13 year old’s crotch, but without Mitchell’s exposed penis included,” the feds’ sentencing memo said.
An investigating FBI agent said that Mitchell posted a video of the above-described abuse to Tumblr.
The government said that the images were clearly child pornography under the law because Mitchell exposed himself.
“The juxtaposition of these images is contemplated as child pornography by Congress and included in the definition when the federal statute requires only the exposed genitals or pubic area of any person, not just the child,” the memo said. “The defendant’s focus on this area of the child is intentional, prolonged, and photographic evidence of her sexual assault at his hands. The setting of the video is in a bedroom, the most natural place for the occurrence of sexual activity.”
The government, therefore, asked U.S. District Judge Susan O. Hickey to sentence Mitchell to 30 years in prison. That’s the punishment Mitchell received, plus 20 years of supervised release.
The defense, on the other hand, had asked for a sentence of 210 months (17.5 years.).
The defense memo began by quoting Bryan Stevenson, the famous defense lawyer portrayed in recent years by Michael B. Jordan in “Just Mercy“: “There is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.”
Assistant Federal Public Defender Matthew Hill said Mitchell is a “young man who became lost, but he is not hopeless.” The lawyer said that Mitchell was on the right track in life but that “all changed with an injury while in military service.”
Saying the defendant overcame bullying and weight problems, the defense said Mitchell eventually enlisted in the Arkansas Army National Guard.
“He graduated boot camp as a proud American. He stood with a sense of purpose. He obeyed orders; respected the authority of his superiors; wore his uniform with pride. He trained hard to be the best soldier,” the defense said. “That strong soldier was laid low by a back injury while training. He was medically discharged, broken in body and spirit. His direction and purpose was reduced to nothing by the word ‘discharged.'”
The defense said Mitchell got hooked on the opioid hydrocodone, which was prescribed to treat his back pain, and turned to other drugs to “try and deal with the symptoms of withdrawal as well as the pain.”
During this time period, Mitchell moved in with a woman at the residence where he committed his crimes.
“She would work while Aaron stumbled through his days, looking for work during the day and getting high at night,” the defense said. “When Aaron was alone, he would spend time online browsing the internet. Eventually, his browsing led to Tumblr, a microblogging website.”
In closing, the defense reflected on Mitchell’s fall from “proud soldier” to a man “profoundly ashamed and shocked by his conduct.” The defense acknowledged that the “danger and wrongness excited him, and Aaron took photos of these children.”
“The extent of his remorse cannot be overstated. When confronted by FBI agents with one of the photos Aaron immediately acknowledged that he had taken the pictures,” the defense memo said. “When asked why he took the pictures, he gave the same response that we see from so many immature young men, ‘I don’t know, sir.'”
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