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Ex-teacher sentenced for having child porn

Sobbing softly, a former high school English teacher pleaded no contest Monday to charges that he kept child pornography in his computer, where it was found by one of his students.

"I don't ever intend to teach again. I love teaching," said Randolph Sonnenburg, who was a veteran teacher at Hillsborough High when he was arrested in February. "My life has been turned upside down by stupidity."

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe then sentenced Sonnenburg, 48, to five years of probation and agreed to withhold a formal finding of guilt on his record. Sonnenburg must enroll in a sex offender treatment program and cannot teach or volunteer at any job that involves children.

Sonnenburg, adviser to the school newspaper and coach of the girls' tennis team, was suspended after his arrest and later retired.

The bearded, bespectacled teacher had called in sick one day in February when a student got on his school computer in search of a reference letter he had written for her. Instead, she found pictures showing young children engaged in sex acts. Investigators later recovered more pictures from his home computer. Sonnenburg was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography.

Sonnenburg said he was on the Internet one night when he stumbled into a chat room where people were exchanging pornographic pictures. He admitted he got interested and later sought out those rooms.

He said along with the sexual pictures of adults that he received, there were also pictures of children. Those were not his interest, he said.

"For some one who's allegedly intelligent, I did something that was remarkably stupid," he said. "I didn't purge those immediately, I put them in a separate file."

His attorney, Rick Terrana, said Sonnenburg had transferred computer disks back and forth between home and work, but never intended for his private collection to be seen at school.

But prosecutor Rick Leal said children in the pictures had been victimized and said it was important to ensure that Sonnenburg would never teach again.

"Through his voyeurism, he contributes to the abuse and exploitation of children," Leal said.

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