A prosecutor in the case of an Iowa teen who was given a suspended 10-year prison sentence for molesting a 1-year-old girl said Thursday that the teen was duped into the act by child pornographers posing online as a teenage girl.
The suspended sentence for Kraigen Grooms, 19, issued Monday has stirred outrage on social media and led to an online petition calling for an Iowa judge's removal.
But Wapellow County Attorney Gary Oldenburger said Grooms' sentence was part of a plea agreement based on a bevy of factors, including that the victim's parents refused to participate in prosecuting Grooms.
"My original intent was to send him to prison for a long time," Oldenburger said. "The girl's parents didn't want Grooms to go to prison; they wanted him to go to rehab."
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Court records show that Grooms — who was 16 when the crime occurred — received a 10-year suspended sentence and five years of supervised release.
Under state law, a judge can issue a sentence and then suspend the execution of that sentence subject to the defendant complying with certain conditions.
Grooms was given credit for nearly 2½ years spent in a juvenile detention center and, later, adult county jail while he awaited trial. Grooms must register as a sex offender and faces prison time if he reoffends.
Oldenburger said the toddler was not raped or physically harmed; the prosecutor told the Des Moines Register that Grooms was masturbating in the video. He also said Grooms did not know the abuse was being recorded by pornographers.
The pornographers tried to persuade Grooms to commit additional abuse, Oldenburger said, but Grooms didn't. A psychologist found Grooms was unlikely to commit sexual abuse in the future.
Grooms' actions came to light after federal authorities tracked down the pornographers — one in New Orleans and the other in Ireland, Oldenburger said.
"The abuse was committed at the behest of two men who had, over a long period of time, perfected the technique for duping children into committing sexual acts that they would not have otherwise engaged in," Oldenburger said. "They were so skillful and so persuasive in their efforts that they successfully convinced hundreds of children to engage in sexual activity while they surreptitiously recorded it."
While District Judge Randy DeGeest presided over Monday's sentencing, another judge, Myron Gookin, accepted the plea agreement in July. Either had discretion to reject the plea deal and sentence him to prison, Oldenburger said.
A court spokesman told The Associated Press on Thursday that neither of the judges could comment on the case.