Man convicted after 'bizarre' child-porn confession

In a case Crown prosecutor Geoffrey McDonald called "comical" and defence lawyer Keith Jones termed "bizarre," a former Prince George resident was handed a 45-day jail sentence Tuesday for possessing child pornography.

Ross Haynes Sandwell, 42, pled guilty to one charge in B.C. provincial court, but it was the circumstances of how police became aware of the crime that had both the Crown and defence lawyers in awe.

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On Oct. 21, 2011, Sandwell walked into the Prince George RCMP detachment with a complaint that someone had stolen his identity to access child pornography. He presented police with what he believed was a letter from a Russian police agency regarding the possible identity theft.

Police began an investigation into what they thought was some sort of fraud and brought Sandwell into a room to give a statement. Over the course of that questioning, Sandwell mentioned that he had viewed child pornography himself.

That revelation prompted police to shift gears and begin investigating Sandwell himself. Sandwell subsequently admitted that he had recently looked at child pornography on his home computer and told police, "I'm here to face the consequences of my poor choice."

A search of Sandwell's computer turned up some images of child pornography, consistent with his statement to police. McDonald said the collection of images wasn't extensive and didn't depict violence.

"We don't usually have offenders walk out of the cold and into a police station and confess," McDonald told Judge John Milne as part of his joint submission with Jones. "If everyone who committed a crime came into the police station and confessed, the jobs of police officers and the Crown would be easier."

Sandwell told the court he was sorry for his crime, which he said stemmed from a "depraved way of thinking."

"I cannot give you excuses for my actions, there are none to give," he said, noting his crime perpetuated harm against children who had already been victimized.

Jones told the court his client was now living with a religious group called The Twelve Tribes of Israel in Winnipeg and that the organization was having a positive impact on his client.

"The leaders of The Twelve Tribes are well aware of his record and conditions of his bail," Jones told the court.

Colin Whiteside, an elder with The Twelve Tribes, told the judge that his group believed Sandwell was changing his way of life "from his thoughts to his personal habits" and that a jail sentence would "remove the one in need from the people who care enough to help him."

According to the religious group's website, there are a few thousand members of the The Twelve Tribes worldwide. The members of the group share all of the money they earn for the good of the community, dress modestly and do not watch television.

Jones said his client does manual labour as part of his duties with the group.

The case took another odd turn during the middle of McDonald's submission when Milne said he recognized two men in the court room - one of whom was Sandwell. Milne said he shared a cab ride from the airport on Monday with Sandwell and the other man, but said it would have no bearing on his decision.

"I'm not swayed by a cab ride," the judge said.

Both the Crown and defence recommended the minimum jail term of 45 days. In addition to his time behind bars, Sandwell will also have three years of probation during which time his access to the Internet will be limited to employment purposes and he'll be barred with associating with people under the age of 18. He must also submit a DNA sample to a database.

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