FARGO, North Dakota — A federal judge said Tuesday that the behavior of man sentenced to 32 years in prison for threatening girls into engaging sexually explicit conduct is the worst he's seen in a case.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson said Dustin Coleman showed "levels of depravity I have never seen before." He said he added two years to Coleman's sentence for the threats against the victims.
Authorities said Coleman, 22, of Wahpeton told one victim that if she didn't send him nude photographs of herself, he would rape her younger sister. He told another victim who threatened to kill herself that he wanted to see the pills before she took them, according to authorities.
"I'm really struggling with whether 30 years is an adequate sentence given the facts and circumstances of this case," said Erickson, who paused on a couple of occasions before handing down the 32-year term. "It seems to me that the extortion has got to be worth something."
Coleman pleaded guilty in November to three counts of sexual exploitation of minors, three counts of possessing child pornography and two counts of extortion in the first federal case of "sextortion" tried in North Dakota.
Coleman told the judge what he did was "serious and wrong" and that he accepts responsibility for his actions.
"I do not deny anything that the prosecutor said," he said.
Lawyers on both sides asked for a sentence of 30 years.
Defense attorney Christopher Lancaster told the judge there are no excuses for the criminal conduct, but added that his client suffers from numerous mental health and addiction issues. Coleman was abused by his stepfather and hazed by young people after moving from Connecticut to North Dakota when he was 11, Lancaster said.
"He has a profound sense of remorse," Lancaster said. "Regardless of these proceedings, I don't think anyone can feel worse than he feels about himself."
Authorities were alerted to the case after a woman who was moving out of Coleman's residence inadvertently packed his laptop computer, two hard drives and an iPod Touch. Once Coleman realized the devices were missing, he called the woman and told her the belongings were his "life."
The woman looked on the external hard drive and found child pornography, including images of a girl she knew. The woman told the girl about the images and the girl contacted police, according to court documents.
Prosecutor Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl said Coleman's victims are "suffering a great deal" and one of them declined to give an impact statement because she's worried about retaliation. Puhl said she didn't want to detail the allegations because they are so embarrassing and humiliating.
"It is heinous, depraved criminal conduct," the prosecutor said.
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