KENNEWICK - A former Richland man who developed an online sexual relationship with a Colorado teen and downloaded pictures of girls in sex acts was warned Thursday that adults "have a duty not to hurt vulnerable children" and he should avoid all pornographic websites.
Though Michael Lawrence Deitering was involved in a "watching crime" as opposed to an "active crime," Judge Craig Matheson said, it still is disturbing behavior for a man almost twice the age of his victims.
"These filthy programs on the internet ... you shouldn't go to them. They're just wrong," Matheson said. "These young girls all over the world are being victimized by this stuff and, as any thoughtful adult, you shouldn't use those. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Very much so, sir," Deitering quietly answered. He turns 27 today.
Deitering, who now lives in Bellingham, was sentenced in Benton County Superior Court to a year in jail, with two years and 10 months suspended.
Matheson granted a Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative that reduces the time behind bars and focuses on intensive treatment, but warned Deitering he will go to prison for the full time if he violates any of the conditions.
Deitering pleaded guilty last summer to communicating with a minor for immoral purposes and first-degree possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
In December 2008, he befriended the Colorado girl on a free online games site and started chatting with her. Deitering, who was living alone in Richland then, said the two became close and he began having intimate feelings for her, even though he knew she was 14, according to court documents.
The relationship turned sexual when he sent nude pictures of himself and requested the same of her. They also reportedly discussed "how they will have sex."
The girl reported Deitering's actions to police in October 2009.
Deitering has admitted that he knew what he was doing was wrong and that he felt ashamed, so he turned to websites that condoned the behavior and started downloading pictures. He's described it as being in a "dark place" and said he became depressed while isolated from family in Ohio.
Richland police who examined his home computer found 46 images of prepubescent girls involved in sex acts and various states of undress, along with other pictures in which the ages of the girls couldn't be determined.
Officers also found chats with other young girls, including a Prosser girl who had been encouraged to tell her mother she needed to babysit Deitering's son so they could meet, court documents said.
Defense lawyer Shelley Ajax has told the court it was "really a very out of character event for him" and that Deitering "went somewhere in his mental health world where he's never gone before, and I don't think he'll ever go back."
Ajax requested the special sentence, saying her client will fit well into the program.
"I really believe that Mr. Deitering is going to be successful," she said. "I don't think he's going to make any mistakes."
Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor had asked for a standard prison sentence, pointing out how underage girls in such images continue to be victimized each time someone looks at the pictures.
Matheson explained that he doesn't often agree to the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative because he believes the necessary counseling can just as easily be done in prison. He said he was granting the program, instead of a straight prison sentence, more to benefit the community so "society will be safer" if Deitering's treatment succeeds.
"He appears to be capable and remorseful. Capable of paying for and receiving adequate treatment, and that's rare in a criminal setting," Matheson said.
Matheson ordered Deitering not to participate in any websites that show or distribute pornographic images.
"Not one keystroke, not one dirty picture, and I don't care whether it's adult or minor because you don't know when you flip it on whether it's going to be some little 13-year-old," the judge said. "And I've seen some of these things in court, and they're terrible and they're damaging. So I don't want you to participate at all."
Deitering also was told to have no contact with the Colorado girl for five years. A review hearing on his sentence is set next January.