Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Sadly, sentence not the final chapter in child porn case

Consider this vexing possibility. At the rate Michael Meister's criminal legal case is slouching toward a resolution, the tots depicted in the child porn trafficking the defendant was engaged in could well be approaching middle age by the time this very creepy chap spends his first night in the slammer — if ever.

We know that the wheels of justice can grind slowly. But this case has taken on a virtually inert glacial pace.

It was six years ago that a technician discovered sexually explicit images of children in Meister's laptop computer. Six years ago.

Since 2010, Meister, 58, has worn an ankle monitor to keep tabs on his whereabouts, and in September he was finally convicted in federal court on charges of possessing and distributing child pornography, including some images prosecutors described as "sadistic."

Normally — a word used advisedly in connection with Michael Meister — he would be incarcerated as a felon facing a prison term somewhere between 12 and 16 years. But this hasn't been a normal case.

Instead, the defendant has been allowed to remain free on bond while he appeals his conviction, even though Meister doesn't deny he did exactly what the feds accused him of. And why is that?

Well, it seems Meister is suffering from blood cancer, multiple myeloma, and isn't expected to live a whole lot longer. We pause here for everyone to sniffle.

Usually people who are convicted of child porn charges are remanded into custody because the offense is viewed as a violent crime. But because of his medical condition, U.S. District Judge Richard Lazzara has allowed Meister to remain free to roam the streets. And roam he has. Despite being supposedly at death's door, Meister has summoned the strength to travel widely from Key West to Savannah, Ga., to Colorado Springs and to the Grand Canyon, for starters. In all, he has taken nearly 30 trips and roughly only two for medical treatment.

This case is starting to look like Monty Python's "I'm not dead yet!" of the federal criminal justice system.

The good news is that Friday morning Lazzara finally sentenced Meister to seven years in prison. The bad news is the registered sex offender was also allowed to remain free on bond while he appeals his conviction on the grounds that the cops improperly searched his computer containing what everyone (including Meister) agrees were perverted images of child porn.

And so until the federal courts rule on Meister's appeal, he remains a free man. But really, how free?

Michael Meister lives in a sex offender boardinghouse. He is estranged from family and friends. His wife recently filed for divorce. He is in debt. He has cancer. His employment prospects are hardly promising — all because he was an enthusiastic voyeur of viewing images of children being sexually abused.

And he has a seven-year federal prison term hanging over his head.

In court, Lazzara opined that with extensive therapy since his arrest Michael Meister was truly remorseful for the crimes that had ruined his life, not to mention the damage inflicted on the children he participated in exploiting. Maybe so. The criminal justice system has a way of focusing one's mind.

But on Friday morning, Michael Meister realized his true punishment — a sick, broken man in more ways than one sitting so very much all alone in a courtroom.

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