no molestation or sexual behavior; taking nude images results in longer prison sentence than 2nd degree murder
judge to victims: “consider the power of forgiveness”
BISBEE – With his teen-aged victims looking on, Robert Daniel Chandler was sentenced last week to more than 26 years in prison for secretly recording videos of the girls while they were bathing. The 36 year old will also be on probation for life upon his release from prison. Chandler was found guilty of three counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, each of which is a class 2 felony, in a September non-jury trial before judge John Kelliher.
According to court documents, Chandler hid cameras in a bathroom used by two sisters who discovered them in October 2015 and notified a school official. The case was assigned to detective Thomas Ransford of the Sierra Vista Police Department. Ransford obtained an admission from Chandler that he recorded 15 to 20 videos, although only three videos were recovered as evidence.
Family members of Chandler and the victims were present during the January 27 sentencing hearing presided over by judge Kelliher. The proceedings were halted for a few minutes to allow one of the victims time to regain her composure after she directed severally emotionally charged statements at Chandler during her victim statement.
The main issue during the hearing was how long Chandler should be in prison. The judge had previously ruled in favor of prosecutor Lori Zucco’s argument that aggravating circumstances applied to the case due to the emotional harm done to the victims. That finding allowed Kelliher the option of imposing substantially longer prison terms (24 years and 23 years) compared to the presumptive sentences (17 years and 9.25 years).
At the hearing Zucco noted that despite the lack of “hands-on” molestation, “the circumstances of this case” called for it to be “prosecuted so strongly.” She argued that Chandler should be sentenced to lifetime probation on count one, but should not be sentenced to less than the presumptive terms on counts two and three. However, Zucco pointed out both victims were “in favor of the longest sentence possible.”
When offered a chance to make a statement, Chandler limited his comments to saying he was sorry and would accept the court’s decision on punishment. Defense attorney Richard Lougee addressed the court about mercy and Chandler’s background as a military veteran who served in Kosovo and Iraq.
Lougee also pointed out the 17 year sentence suggested for count 2 was longer than the 16 year presumptive sentence for someone convicted of second degree murder.
Lougee conceded that “nothing justified” what Chandler did, but suggested his client need not serve a “severely” long prison term in order for the victims to heal from “the horrible betrayals.” The defense, noting there was no molestation involved, asked the judge to impose a 10 year prison term and a 4.75 year term, along with lifetime probation.
At one point Kelliher addressed Chandler directly, explaining that during the trial the judge was required to watch the videos in question. Kelliher revealed Chandler’s face was visible in one of the videos. “You were blinded by something – a mission – that scares me,” said the judge, who added that as a father of two girls he was “haunted” by Chandler’s “intensity and focus” while setting up the camera.
The sentence decision was “not easy” said Kelliher, explaining his role as judge was “to serve justice” and also “to protect society.” Kelliher recognized that the state legislature has set “harsh” sentences for crimes involving children, but asked Chandler “how long do your victims suffer?”
The judge took several minutes to address the young girls about their experience, saying “I am sorry for you”. He also encouraged them to consider “the power of forgiveness” for their well-being and said he hoped they “don’t let hate consume you.”
In the end Chandler was given lifetime probation on count one along with the presumptive sentence on count two and three. The 17 year sentence is flat time (day-for-day) meaning Chandler does not qualify for early release. Kelliher ordered credit for 211 days that Chandler has already spent in jail. Upon completion of that sentence he will begin the 9.25 years for count three.
Once Chandler is released from prison he must report to the probation office to begin lifetime probation and also report for the state’s sex offender registry. Kelliher noted that any probation violations could result in Chandler being returned to prison for up to 12.5 years on count one.
Meanwhile, Chandler has 20 days to file a notice of appeal of his conviction and/or sentence. His attorneys, Lougee and co-counsel Ralph Ellinwood, previously questioned the statute under which Chandler was indicted, noting that ARS 13-3553 (sexual exploitation of a minor) requires “a minor engaged in exploitive exhibition or other sexual conduct.”
Instead, the defense contended ARS 13-3019 (surreptitious photography or videotaping) should have been used because the girls, although nude, were not involved in sexual or exploitative behavior. ARS 13-3019 is a class 4 felony which calls for significantly shorter prison terms.
Contact reporter Terri Jo Neff at 520-508-3660 and firstname.lastname@example.org
Read related stories: