BANGOR — Troy Upham suffered horrific sexual abuse as a child. Molested by an uncle at age 9 and raped by another man as a teen-ager, Upham, a dual citizen of America and Canada, eventually prostituted himself to men before he claims to have cleaned up his act to become a writer.
But Upham, 36, also used his past as an excuse to indulge a predilection for child pornography, concluded a federal judge who Thursday sentenced him to 6 1/2 years in prison for possessing and transmitting pornographic images of children over the Internet.
In a precedent-setting case in Maine, U.S. District Judge Morton Brody also ordered Upham to complete five years of supervised release after prison. Brody dismissed Upham’s repeated claims that he possessed and transmitted hundreds of nude and pornographic images of children from his former girlfriend’s home computer in Milford as part of his research for a book on the scourge of child pornography.
The 26-page book, the product of 12 years of work Upham claimed, never has been completed or published but was at the center of Upham’s defense in a four-day trial last September. Eventually a jury convicted Upham of four counts of transmitting sexually explicit images of minors and one count of possession of sexually explicit images of minors. He used America Online, a national Internet-linking service, to transmit pictures to up to 200 people at one time, according to court testimony.
Upham is the first person to be convicted in Maine of trafficking in child pornography on a personal computer. Plenty of similar cases are expected to hit the courts soon. Stephen Marx, resident agent for the U.S. Customs Service, attended Thursday’s sentencing and said his agency has made computer trafficking in child pornography a top priority.
Reacting to the sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gail Malone, who prosecuted the case for the government, said she hoped the case would “send a strong message that child pornography will not be tolerated and sentences will be harsh.”
Court-appointed defense attorney N. Laurence Willey said the case had been “very difficult but very interesting from a legal point of view.”
Willey predicted other court cases, such as that of a University of Southern Maine professor accused of similar offenses, will rely heavily on issues explored and decided in Upham’s trial.
Upham, who delivered a lengthy speech during part of Thursday’s hearing, wiped tears from his eyes as he was sentenced. The resident of New Brunswick and Connecticut was handcuffed and taken back to jail to await transport to a federal penitentiary, most likely in Texas.
Attempts to reach his ex-fiancee failed Thursday. A former University of Maine employee, Kathi Morrissey reportedly has moved to Texas following turmoil last spring. During Upham’s trial, she testified that agents searched her Milford home and the Department of Human Services threatened to take custody of her daughter after charges were levied against Upham.
During the search of Morrissey’s home, agents recovered about 50 computer diskettes, 44 of which had been erased. Agents used a special program to restore the diskettes and discovered they contained approximately 1,400 images of nude children, some engaged in sexual activity.
The images were banned from being shown in open court during the trial four months ago because of their inflammatory nature.
Brody, who had viewed the images, explained to Upham that the literary defense which Upham’s attorney pursued vigorously during his trial was a “facade” for illegal activity in this case.
He said Upham had every right to research and write a book; however, dealing in child pornography in any way does not qualify as a literary defense. Brody said child pornography is not covered under the First Amendment as Upham claimed.
In an off-the-cuff speech that covered topics from his childhood sexual abuse to his alleged dedication to writing, Upham insisted his sole motive in possessing and transmitting the images was to research his book.
“I know you dismissed the book and that’s what hurts the most,” a tearful Upham told the judge.