It seems all too common these days, but this happened almost 16 years ago.
Robert McNiel (not his real name) was arrested at work in Arkansas. He pled guilty in Wyoming and was sentenced to three years and two months on Federal charges.
I didn’t know McNiel well as he worked in another part of the facility. However, I had worked with his wife – who was a lot younger than him – on a couple of projects. Both had worked there for several years. McNiel, a Naval Academy graduate, had started at the facility soon after resigning his naval commission.
McNiel had tickets to events of the XIX Olympic Winter Games, held in Utah from February 8th through February 24th, 2002. His planned route would take him through Wyoming on Interstate 80.
McNiel’s arrest resulted from a Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) undercover operation. A DCI agent posed as a 39-year-old Cheyenne, Wyoming woman in an internet chat room where people interested in sex with preteens gathered to trade photos and solicit contact with children. At some point, McNiel contacted the agent and, within a few minutes, was discussing the possibility of a sexual encounter with the agent’s fictitious 9-year-old daughter. As the conversation continued, McNiel started sending images depicting children engaged in explicit sexual activities, eventually sending 10 pornographic images as well as an image of himself to help the woman he was corresponding with – the undercover DCI agent – decide if she wanted her daughter to have sex with him.
Robert McNiel is now a registered sex offender living in an isolated mobile home
on the windswept plains of eastern Wyoming.
The agent and McNiel agreed to meet in Cheyenne in February, 2002, when he was planning to travel to Utah. FBI and DCI agents arrested him at work in Arkansas on January 22nd.
McNiel pled guilty to interstate transportation of child pornography in May 2002 and was sentenced in August. During the sentencing, the judge stated that he never would have imagined he would have been called on to sentence a Naval Academy graduate for a child pornography offense.
It would be easy that there were no victims in this case, that McNiel was caught through an undercover internet sting. However, that would be wrong.
Even if McNiel didn’t take the pictures, the kids in the images are victims of a perverse underground system that exploits some of society’s weakest. McNiel had to have gotten those images from somewhere. More than 80% of sexual abuse offenses against children are committed by people they know.
“In a sense, every viewing of child pornography is a repetition of the victim’s abuse.” – from the Supreme Court majority opinion in Paroline v. United States et. al.
There are also other victims, victims in all crimes that all-too-often are never considered, never mentioned – the families of the perpetrator.
I have known two women who were at one time married to men who became sex offenders. One was McNiel’s wife. The other was an internet blogging friend. These women are, for the most part, unacknowledged victims. They have had to accept that a person they had once completely trusted has done, or planned to do, morally reprehensible and criminal acts. They have had to deal with the horror that the person they thought they knew could even think of going down that path.
Then, of course, there are the children. The wife – or, probably, ex-wife – has to deal with what to tell the kids about where daddy is gone and why. The kids, of course, have lost their father, sometime temporarily, sometimes, where the criminal penalties are severe, permanently. While my parents divorced when I was quite young, I can only imagine the trauma of having one’s father go to prison.
… Monsters are real.
As a convicted and registered sex offender, former engineer
Robert McNeil has limited employment opportunities.