An Oregon man pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of producing child pornography and transporting a minor for sexual activity after prosecutors said he took his girlfriend’s toddler across state lines and included the child in sex acts.
James Lee Hickerson, 36, entered the pleas after prosecutors and a defense attorney jointly recommended a sentence of 25 years in federal prison.
Hickerson responded clearly to a series of questions from U.S. District Judge Michael Simon but made no statement in court.
Simon is not required to accept the recommendation at the Nov. 9 sentencing. The maximum penalty would put Hickerson behind bars for life.
Hickerson’s girlfriend pleaded guilty in May to transportation of a minor for sexual activity and is awaiting sentencing. The Associated Press is withholding her name to protect the identity of the child.
Hickerson’s father, Neil Lee Hickerson, pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography in the case and is also waiting to be sentenced.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Shoemaker said the girlfriend can’t drive, so Hickerson would pick up her and the toddler about once a month at their Washington state home and take them to his residence in Gresham, Oregon.
The toddler was often present when the couple had sex and was later included, Shoemaker said.
“The defendant acknowledged (to investigators) that it was wrong, and that he and (the girlfriend) had discussed how this was a bad idea,” Shoemaker said. “But he said the situation snowballed and they did it anyway.”
Shoemaker said the child pornography investigation began when an undercover agent downloaded files from a peer-to-peer, file-sharing network, and traced the images to computers that belonged to Hickerson and his father.
“The peer-to-peer program was running during the execution of the search warrant,” she said. “Videos containing child pornography — and file names indicative of child pornography — were being downloaded as the agents arrived.”