Bizarre case

Teen sex video on cell phone nets Columbia man prison

Video was of his girlfriend; he also made bomb threat

jmonk@thestate.comFebruary 8, 2013 

— Sidney Myers will be spending the next 18 months in a federal prison for 15 minutes worth of sex videos he made with his teenage girlfriend.

The girlfriend, who knew Myers was videoing at the time, happened to be 16 years old – which made her a minor under a federal sex offender law meant to apply to serious sex crimes. Having the video on his cell phone meant Myers violated federal law by possessing child pornography.

Myers’ prison sentence, handed down Thursday, is the type of nightmare scenario that law enforcement has been warning parents and high school students about: Intimate videos and photos of young people on electronic devices can send someone to prison.

Myers, who was 20 at the time, had no criminal record and whose attorney said comes from a “very good family,” now will be listed on South Carolina’s sex offender registry. The registry mostly includes sex predators, stalkers, pedophiles, child pornographers and rapists. That will sharply limit his future career choices and even where he can live.

“This is the most perplexing case I’ve had in a long time,” U.S. Judge Joseph Anderson told Myers, of Eastover, during the sentencing hearing at the federal courthouse in Columbia.

On one hand, the 63-year-old judge said, many people “are going to great lengths to protect privacy, but the other half of society is out there putting sex on their telephones!”

Anderson also gave Myers 18 months in prison for making a bomb threat to Eau Claire High School in north Columbia on Nov. 2, 2011. He made the threat so he and his girlfriend, an Eau Claire student, could spend the day together without her having to skip school. The two 18-month sentences will be served concurrently.

Teens taking graphic pictures of themselves is so common these days that state Attorney General Alan Wilson routinely warns high school students in speeches not to take nude photos of themselves or make sex videos because they could wind up – like Myers – in prison for possession of child pornography.

Myers used a blocking technology to disguise his cell phone number when he called Eau Claire to make the threat. But FBI investigators easily got records from Verizon that they used to identify his HTC smart phone. Once they tracked Myers down, he confessed. In examining his phone, the FBI discovered the videos and charged him with making a bomb threat and child pornography.

What made the case so different from the normal child pornography case, prosecution and defense lawyers said, was that Myers didn’t download the video to a computer or try to sell it or even share it with anyone. And the 16-year-old’s mother knew about Myers and often let him spend the night at her house. Moreover, when Myers had met the girl, she had told him she was 18.

Another complicating factor: At 16, the girl was legally able to have consensual sex under South Carolina law. But under federal law, it isn’t legal to videotape minors under 18 having sex.

The minimum sentence for someone who has no prior criminal record for possessing child pornography is 108 months, or nine years. But the prosecution, the defense and the judge said that was excessive.

“I just have a problem with a sentence that long with the facts of this case,” Anderson said, noting it would cost taxpayers $192,000 to keep Myers in prison for nine years.

Prosecutor Winston Holliday told Anderson that Myers technically exploited the 16-year-old. “Myers orchestrated this. He clearly encouraged her to do this and set up camera angles and all that because he does want to make a video.”

But Holliday, who had asked for a two-year sentence, also told the judge that most child pornography cases, such as those involving young children, are “some of the worst cases that we deal with. But we clearly don’t have that here.”

Ironically, the maximum sentence for Myers’ bomb threat charge by itself would have only brought six months’ probation for someone with no criminal record. What allowed prosecutors to seek prison is that his two crimes were linked together – the bomb threat had been made on the cell phone with the videos.

Myers’ lawyer, federal assistant public defender Katherine Evatt, had argued for a prison sentence of a year and a day, something that would be a punishment but would also take into account the peculiar facts of this case. She also told the judge that Myers’ left leg had been amputated – as a result of an earlier ATV accident – and “a term in prison would be harder for him. He will need special care.”

In a brief court statement, Myers apologized to his family and told Anderson, “I’m sorry about everything. If I could take it back I would. This ain’t my lifestyle.”

Anderson told Myers his crimes were just stupid.

“You are two for two in dumb ideas on the same day,” Anderson said. “Eighteen months is a long time for someone your age, but it’s a whole lot better than 108 months (nine years) – so don’t do anything foolish, OK?”

After the hearing, Myers walked over and shook hands with Holliday and the FBI agent who handled the case. “Good luck to you,” Holliday told him.

Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.

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