Retired Brig. Gen. Frank Sullivan, 69, pleaded guilty to five felony counts of child pornography. A Pennsylvania judge sentenced him to probation. Photo courtesy of PA Office of Attorney General. Composite by Kenna Milaski/Coffee or Die Magazine.
A retired Air Force brigadier general was sentenced to probation after claiming post-traumatic stress made him turn to child pornography.
Frank Sullivan, 69, pleaded guilty to five felony counts of child pornography stemming from a raid on his Pennsylvania home in October 2019. This week, a judge sentenced Sullivan to five years of probation and fined him $2,500, according to reporting from PennLive. Sullivan must also register with state police as a sex offender for the next 15 years.
“I accept full responsibility for everything. […] I damaged friends, family…countless thousands,” Sullivan said in court. “I don’t know how much time I have left on this planet. But in the name of the Lord, I’m going to make it up…to those I’ve hurt.”
The sentence comes 16 months after police raided Sullivan’s home, finding a computer in his bedroom with “images of apparent child pornography” and “166 search terms commonly used for the search of child pornography,” according to a probable cause affidavit.
“General Sullivan’s alleged actions disgrace his work and besmirch the Pennsylvania National Guard, an organization that has bravely and dutifully come to the aid of Pennsylvanians whenever they have been called,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement shortly after the raid.
A tenant in the home, Bobby Glenn Williams Jr., was also charged with numerous counts of child pornography, according to the Olean Times Herald.
Edward E. Guido, the judge who sentenced Sullivan, said his decision was partly influenced by Sullivan’s “distinguished” military career and the steps he has taken “to address the underlying psychological problems” that led to his crimes.
Sullivan served as an engineering officer and commanded various support units in the Air National Guard, according to his biographical entry on the National Guard’s website. He served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.
Numerous veterans have cited post-traumatic stress as their reason for downloading predatory images in the past, according to reporting by Task & Purpose. In 2018, Andrew Demma, an Army medic veteran in Ohio, was sentenced to one day in prison for possessing a vast collection of child pornography that included more than 3,600 photos and 230 videos, many showing men sexually abusing pre-pubescent girls, according to the Dayton Daily News. Demma was also ordered to pay $45,000 restitution and perform community service. However, a higher court set aside the sentence, calling it “unreasonably low.” Demma awaits resentencing.
In 2009, Assistant US Attorney Joseph Kosky called a Navy veteran’s claim that his service in Iraq led him to download child pornography a “flimsy excuse,” noting that thousands of service members return from war zones without resorting to victimizing children, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
Post-traumatic stress has been used as a defense in other types of criminal cases as well. Lawyers for a Texas man accused of having sex with his neighbor’s dog cited the disorder in his 2019 court case.
According to the National Center for PTSD, about 8% of the US population will have PTSD at some point in their lives. About 10% of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4% of men.
A 2020 VA study found that veterans who suffer with post-traumatic stress are about 60% more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system than veterans who do not. Researchers also examined the ties between combat exposure and criminal justice involvement but found “no significant results.”
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress can include flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, aggressive behavior, and severe anxiety. Pedophilia and zoophilia (sexual attraction to animals) are not listed as behaviors related to PTSD.
Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.
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