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Military veteran who downloaded child pornography while working aboard NOAA research vessel sentenced to two years in prison

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)

A 44-year-old crew member of a NOAA scientific research vessel who downloaded child pornography found on the ship’s server was sentenced Wednesday to two years in federal prison.

Johnny Dale Hale was working aboard the Bell M. Shimada, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ship, in 2016 when he transferred to the ship’s server two folders of child pornography that included about 35 images from a cell phone, according to federal prosecutors.

Hale was identified as having accessed the pornography after special agents and a forensic analyst traced the images to a specific account belonging to Hale and his employee access card, according to court records.

The inquiry occurred during troubleshooting on Nov. 15, 2016, when the ship was having technical issues and two new folders were discovered on the ship’s server, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney William M. McLaren.

Hale, who worked as a contractor with NOAA, initially denied any responsibility for the questionable files but then selfie-style images of his genitals also were found on the vessel’s server and computers, according to the prosecutor.

The material was discovered as the ship was off the coast of Oregon in November 2016.

Hale, of Gig Harbor, Washington, pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography.

His lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Bryan Francesconi, said Hale spent eight days in pretrial detention and was on pretrial supervision for just over four years. He argued for a sentence of time served and five years of supervised release.

Hale is a U.S. veteran who served in active combat in multiple branches of the military and has no prior criminal record, the prosecutor and his lawyer noted.

“While Hale’s service must be honored, his choice must be acknowledged. He chose, for the sake of sexual gratification, to misuse taxpayer resources in a privileged technical position. He chose to possess these images. He then chose to attempt to mislead investigators in favor of owning these choices,” McLaren wrote to the court.

U.S. District Judge Ann L. Aiken issued the sentence in federal court in Eugene.

Hale also has agreed to pay $4,000 in restitution.


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