Abingdon man to serve 18 months for possessing child pornography

An Abingdon man who was facing 100 years in a state prison for possession of child pornography will instead serve 18 months at the county jail.

Henry Vernon Hammen III, 31, of the 3200 block of Rock Creek Court, whose trial in Harford County Circuit Court was scheduled to start Monday, instead reported to the Harford County Detention Center to begin his sentence, the day after he returned from vacationing with his family in Virginia, according to court records.

Hammen was indicted in February on 20 counts of possession of child pornography, which carries a sentence of up to five years for each count.

On July 30, Hammen pleaded guilty before retired Harford Circuit Court Judge Maurice Baldwin to four counts and was sentenced to five years for each count for 20 years, with all but 18 months of the sentence suspended.

Hammen was also sentenced to five years supervised probation and to register as a child sex offender who will not be allowed to access the Internet other than for work purposes. He may not have unsupervised contact with children younger than 16 other than his own.

"We got an agreement that involved him going to jail and being a registered sex offender," Deputy State's Attorney Diane Tobin said Tuesday. "I talked to investigators, to the U.S. Attorney's Office, and we agreed the sentence to be an appropriate sentence."

She said the sentence is in line with what surrounding jurisdictions do in comparable cases.

Several other factors played a part in reaching the plea she was comfortable with, Tobin said.

In reviewing the evidence, she said, a lot of what investigators initially thought was child pornography did not meet the legal definition.

When images are found, a forensic computer examiner looks a them for indications of child pornography, Tobin explained.

"When you actually look at them, they don't meet the definition," she said. "He still had it, and quite a bit, but not the number we originally thought."

Tobin estimated less than half of the initial suspected child pornography images met the legal definition.

Having read some of Hammen's treatment reports, Tobin said she is comfortable that Hammen only looked at the pictures and was not using them to entice or lure children into sexual activity.

Child pornography "can be used to lower the inhibitions of a child so the person can get access to children," Tobin said.

There is no evidence Hammen was filming children or engaging in sexual activity with children, she added.

"He had not done anything to a child," she said.

Tobin said she's also satisfied Hammen will serve some jail time. In many child pornography cases, when offenders are sent to the Department of Corrections, they are paroled very quickly, "sometimes when they hit the door," Tobin said. "I didn't want that to happen."

By serving at the Harford County Detention Center, Tobin said, and given Sheriff's Jesse Bane's policy that sex offenders are not allowed to be on work release, Hammen "won't be out in the community for a while."

"So I felt for him it was an appropriate disposition," she added.

The Harford County State's Attorney's Office will be prosecuting more and more child pornography possession cases, rather than turning them over to the U.S. Attorney's Office, according to Tobin.

"In cases involving production, making or distributing or if there's evidence they're using it to lure or entice...and we think we need the additional muscle of the U.S. Attorney's Office, then they still want to be contacted," Tobin said. "But they've been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of possession cases."

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