A Yelm man who was charged with possession of child pornography has received a lighter sentence because of his post-traumatic stress disorder and his efforts to seek sexual deviancy treatment.
David Alexander Burnett, 36, appeared Monday in Thurston County Superior Court, where he was sentenced to nine months on work release with the remaining 51 months suspended.
Burnett pleaded guilty in August to four counts of communication with a minor for immoral purposes. He was initially charged with 10 counts of first-degree possession of depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, along with one count in the second degree.
According to a psychological evaluation, Burnett said he used pornography as a way to deal with stress after four deployments to the Iraq and Afghanistan as a combat medic with the Army. The military has determined that Burnett qualifies for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the evaluation.
At Monday’s hearing, defense attorney Bryan Hershman said PTSD contributed to his client’s “neurotic” approach to collecting child pornography.
“He was collecting this garbage. He wasn’t viewing it,” Hershman said Monday. “He’s been remorseful.”
Hershman also told the court that Burnett had been “a superstar” in a state-certified sexual deviancy treatment program. Burnett has logged more than 200 hours in the program and “has been an exceptional client,” according to the evaluation. A polygraph test concluded that he “was not attempting deception” when answering “no” to questions about whether he had engaged in sexual activity with anyone age 15 or younger or with a biological family member.
Burnett, a married father with two young children, was allowed by the court last August to move back home with his family. As part of the sentence, Burnett may have supervised contact with his own children, but cannot have contact with other minors.
Burnett has no prior felony or misdemeanor convictions, according to court documents. He will be required to register as a sex offender.
In issuing the sentence, Judge Anne Hirsch agreed to the conditions of work release based on Burnett’s treatment and history of military service.
“The court is really struck by not just the allegations and charges, but by the background that you’ve had,” Hirsch said Monday, referring to Burnett’s deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. “It looks to me as if you’ve had quite a bit of damage based on your service to the country.”
The case dates back to an investigation in 2012. Homeland Security Investigations agents had assumed the online identity of a child pornography user in another state and traced an email account back to Burnett. Agents found emails from Burnett that contained sexually explicit images and videos of underage victims, with at least one victim appearing to be less than 1 year old, according to court documents.
Agents eventually seized Burnett’s electronic devices. In interviews with agents, Burnett denied having urges for young girls, according to documents, but said he viewed the images and videos for their aesthetic beauty.