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Former Brandon High counselor gets 30 years for child porn

Robert Frederick Murray, a former Brandon High guidance counselor, gets emotional Monday as he speaks to Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Robert Frederick Murray, a former Brandon High guidance counselor, gets emotional Monday as he speaks to Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe.

TAMPA — He was bullied as a child and traumatized after one-night stands in college. Catholic guilt made him repress his homosexuality.

It destroyed his self-esteem and opened the door to chat rooms and Internet file sharing services for child pornography.

Those are the circumstances that former Brandon High School guidance counselor Robert Frederick Murray and his defense attorney asserted led him to download more than 250,000 images and videos of child pornography or erotica since at least 2001.

But Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe said Monday those weren't good or sympathetic reasons for "crossing the line."

He sentenced him to 30 years in prison after Murray had pleaded no contest to 181 counts of possession of child porn.

No evidence was presented showing Murray, a 25-year Hillsborough County schools employee, had ever produced or traded illicit images or involved any students he counseled.

Prosecutor Rita Peters said he had often served as a photographer for high school sporting events, including cheerleading and swim practice.

Murray retired rather than face termination in December. School district officials declined to comment Monday.

With his defense attorney's arm wrapped around his side as he sobbed, Murray, 55, begged Tharpe for mercy, hoping to stay out of prison.

"I don't really have an excuse," he said. "I know I have a problem. I have a psychological problem."

He said his sexual repression became a monster he loathed.

"I was hiding it, and it became worse," he said.

Many of about 30 family and friends sitting in the courtroom Monday said they never saw Murray act on his fantasies. They related stories of a compassionate, caring man who was a live-in caretaker of his elderly parents.

Former student Azure Edgeman told the court Murray influenced her most of her life since their first meeting in 1992 during eighth-grade summer school .

"My father died when I was 11, and he stepped right up into that father-figure role," she said.

He gave her lunch money, picked her up from school, counseled her during her breakups and later attended her baby showers.

"I'd definitely trust Mr. Murray with my children," she said.

Psychologist Mark Prainge, hired by the defense, told Tharpe he believed Murray would not molest children. He cited studies he said showed that child pornographers fit different profiles from those who download images.

But Peters said there was an overlap. Tharpe said his own experience sentencing child pornographers told him so, too.

"I am not willing to take the chance that you are among that percentage that will touch a child," Tharpe told Murray.

Peters had read a statement from one child porn victim identified from Murray's files, named "Vickie," who told the court she felt re-victimized every time someone downloaded pictures of her rape by her father.

"I was so young and so helpless," the victim said.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Former Brandon High counselor gets 30 years for child porn 10/24/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 12:25am]
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