Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Largo puppeteer who wanted to cannibalize boys is sentenced to 20 years

TAMPA — A federal judge sentenced a Largo church puppeteer who wrote online about sexually torturing and eating children to 20 years in prison Monday, punctuating a criminal case whose unsettling details raised difficult questions about free speech and due process.

Ronald William Brown, a 58-year-old professional puppeteer who lived at the Whispering Pines mobile-home park, was also sentenced to a lifetime of supervision following his release. He will be required to register as a sex offender and be restricted from access to areas frequented by children, U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore ruled.

Brown had only pleaded guilty to possessing and receiving child pornography and was never charged with doing direct physical harm to anyone. But Whittemore agreed with prosecutors that the unusual circumstances of his case warranted an upward departure from the prison term of 6.5 to 8 years suggested under federal sentencing guidelines.

In addition to receiving pornography, federal agents found that Brown had engaged in protracted online discussions with other child-cannibalism enthusiasts about kidnapping, killing, cooking and eating children, including a specific boy at his church in Largo.

Prosecutors introduced into evidence a photograph of the boy that Brown had labeled in the style of a butcher's diagram, with different parts of his body labeled as "steaks" and "shanks."

"Perverted is not a strong enough word, Mr. Brown, to describe what you've been engaged in," Whittemore said Monday. "Depraved isn't strong enough. … All the adjectives seem inadequate."

Brown's attorneys had argued for leniency in sentencing, noting that Brown had no criminal record and had spent decades of his adult life working around children without acting on the gruesome impulses he professed.

"He lives in a fantasy world," Eric Kuske Leanza, Brown's Tampa-based attorney, told the judge Monday. Leanza said he was being placed in the difficult position of defending thoughts his client had never translated to actions. "I can't defend things that never occurred," he said.

Brown's puppet shows were well known in Pinellas County, where he worked with various community groups. He once had a regular job performing with a ventriloquist's dummy named Marty on a Christian Television Network children's show called Joy Junction.

Prosecutors argued that Brown's was not a garden-variety pornography case. Authorities say he had multiple images of dead children and children in bondage in his computer files. He pleaded guilty to eight counts of possessing or receiving child pornography in March.

"Mr. Brown's interest is not just in children," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Kaiser said. "It's in dead children, which is fairly unusual, I think." Kaiser said Brown had even gotten in touch with a local funeral home seeking work so that he could be around corpses. Brown had also bragged in one chat about molesting a boy in a pool, Kaiser said.

Documents filed last week by prosecutors also assert handwritten journals found in Brown's home show he had "a long pattern and history of obsessing about individual boys" as far back as 1979, some of whom he knew through his "puppet ministry" at Pinellas County churches.

In 1993, the journals show, Brown became "obsessed" with a boy he knew through his puppet work and "repeatedly drove past the Dunedin Middle School at 4 p.m. hoping to see" him. He indicated in the journals that he "liked" another boy but "got mad at him for losing interest in the puppets."

Kaiser said the patterns of infatuation, obsession and resentment in the journals were similar to those in a "teen's diary," but for the frequent references to puppets and Brown's musings about killing one of the boys who had drawn his attention.

"Protection of the public is the final and perhaps the most significant aspect of this proceeding," Whittemore said in explaining his ruling. In Brown's case, he added, "the risk is there that that obsession becomes something more than fantasy."

Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.

Comments
Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushner’s security clearance

Top Justice official alerted White House 2 weeks ago to ongoing issues in Kushner’s security clearance

WASHINGTON — A top Justice Department official alerted the White House two weeks ago that significant information requiring additional investigation would further delay the security clearance process of senior adviser Jared Kushner, three people fami...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Indiana man killed, two hurt as boats collide on Little Manatee River

Indiana man killed, two hurt as boats collide on Little Manatee River

RUSKIN — Arthur D. Showley, 75, went fishing early Friday morning, something he did two or three times a week, friends said. When they saw his car and trailer still parked near a community boat ramp at 2 p.m., they thought that was strange."He never ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Here are the GOP’s responses to the Parkland massacre. Would any have worked?

Here are the GOP’s responses to the Parkland massacre. Would any have worked?

Gov. Rick Scott and Republican leadership in the Florida Legislature have rolled out their ideas for change in response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But would these measures have made a difference in the worst mass...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

Former Florida congressmen say gun control measures need to go much further

TAMPA — A bipartisan pair of former congressmen spoke Friday about gun safety measures that are more drastic than those being considered following the Parkland school shootings, and about hopes for a national youth movement comparable to the 1960s an...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Restricting bullets rather than guns might cut toll of school shootings, some experts say

Restricting bullets rather than guns might cut toll of school shootings, some experts say

This is the sad new math in the age of school slaughter.If one student comes to school with a firearm and 10 ammunition magazines filled with 30 bullets each, and another comes with a firearm and 30 magazines filled with 10 bullets each, who can crea...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Epilogue: Lee Davis, businessman and adventurer, survived many a scrape

Epilogue: Lee Davis, businessman and adventurer, survived many a scrape

TAMPA — Friends and family have a saying about Lee Thornton Davis Jr. Once you met him, even for just a moment, you knew him forever."He was the most outgoing person I’d ever met," Dick Greco said, which is something coming from Tampa’s gregarious, 8...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

Edward Peachey demands severance from CareerSource before stepping down

The head of the Pinellas and Hillsborough career centers under multiple investigations into the way they report job placement figures says he has no intention of stepping down.That’s unless he is paid five months severance.In a letter from his attorn...
Updated: 4 hours ago
She’s taught at the Parkland high school for 14 years. Can she go back?

She’s taught at the Parkland high school for 14 years. Can she go back?

PARKLAND — She was afraid of what it would feel like, but she needed to know, so Melissa Falkowski pulled into the faculty parking lot. She took a deep breath in through her nose and climbed out of her car. She was back, in front of Marjory Stoneman ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
The real Jefferson Memorial has a statue, but this one has a jukebox

The real Jefferson Memorial has a statue, but this one has a jukebox

The building was in its infancy when a vintage Cadillac Eldorado rumbled up the construction path. Getting out, the driver demanded to know what the finished structure was intended for.Told that it would be a private home, the driver scoffed. The uni...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Editorial: Improve school security plans with gun controls

Gov. Rick Scott and key members of the Florida Legislature offered ambitious proposals Friday that would plug some holes in the state’s safety net, strengthen school security and spend up to a half-billion dollars in response to last week’s massacre ...
Updated: 4 hours ago