|Former Talk Show Host Sentenced to More Than Seven Years in Prison
By Howard Mintz
San Jose Mercury News
August 28, 2008
With his sobbing family looking on in a San Francisco courtroom, former KGO radio host Bernie Ward today completed his tumble from one of the Bay Area's most popular liberal voices on the local airwaves to a pariah caught up in the world of online child pornography.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker sentenced Ward to seven years and three months in federal prison, calling the disgraced celebrity a "troubled individual'' whose downfall is a "personal tragedy.'' Ward now must turn himself in to U.S. Marshals by noon Friday to begin his prison term.
Ward declined to comment after the hearing, where his family and friends sat in the gallery, his wife and son in the front row clutching each others' hands. Ward hugged his family when he emerged from the courtroom and walked away with his lawyer. Before the sentence was handed down, Ward spoke briefly to the judge, saying, "I regret the harm this has caused my family, my friends, and this community.''
The 57-year-old Ward pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of distributing child pornography, the result of an investigation that was triggered by his online chats with an online dominatrix who turned him in to police when she grew concerned about images he had of young children. The former Roman Catholic priest and father of four went into federal court in San Francisco knowing he would be headed to prison for a minimum of five years under strict federal sentencing guidelines for child porn cases.
In fact, the hearing highlighted the harsh penalties defendants now face when convicted of downloading child porn onto their computers. Even Walker said he was "not at all convinced'' that sending defendants such as Ward to prison is the best way to address the societal problem of child porn proliferating on the Internet. Ward is one of the mounting numbers of defendants in the Bay Area and across the country facing federal convictions for child porn. A recent Mercury News analysis found that child porn prosecutions in the federal courts have jumped from just a few dozen in the mid-1990s to thousands per year in the nation's federal courts.
But federal prosecutors urged Walker to sentence Ward to nine years in prison, describing his conduct in recent court papers as "amoral, universally unacceptable and aberrant.'' The government's court documents alleged that Ward possessed images of sex acts on children as young as three years old, and revealed his online exchanges with the dominatrix in which he discussed his sexual attraction to children.
"These images depicted these minors suffering the most horrific torment,'' Steve Grocki, a Justice Department lawyer who led the Ward prosecution, said to Walker. "He traded in the currency of human suffering.''
Under his plea agreement, Ward admitted sending dozens of porn images via email. But his lawyer urged Walker to impose the lowest possible sentence, saying Ward began downloading the images as part of journalism research that went awry, spiralling out of control when he began drinking heavily. Doron Weinberg, Ward's attorney, told Walker the child porn downloading "spanned a brief period in an exemplary life.''
"What is profoundly sad is that Bernie Ward is a good man," Weinberg told the judge.
Dozens of Ward's supporters wrote letters to the judge, extolling the talk show host and urging leniency. At the same time, groups aligned against child abuse have pressed for the harshest possible sentence for Ward to make an example of him in the fight against online child porn.
Ward filled KGO's airwaves for three hours every night, an outspoken liberal who took on the Iraq war, conservative causes and President George W. Bush. He also hosted the station's "God Talk'' show on Sunday mornings, now hosted by San Jose State professor Brent Waters, who plans to discuss the child pornography issue on this Sunday's show. KGO fired Ward after the child porn charges came to light.
Contact: Howard Mintz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-286-0236
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