Examining Ariz. laws on child porn through the eyes of an offender

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PHOENIX -- Morton Berger was a beloved teacher at Cortez High School in Phoenix. Thomas Warner was one of the most requested fourth-grade teachers at North Ranch Elementary School in Scottsdale.
But according to court records, both men spent years leading double lives.

Police arrested the Valley teachers after discovering countless images of child pornography on their home computers.

"For the rest of those children's lives, those images are going to be floating around and traded and used to gratify somebody else's perverse lust," Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery explained.

During Berger's trial, there was evidence he joined a child porn ring. In order to qualify for membership, Montgomery said, "You had to have at least 10,000 images to trade in before they would admit you."

A requirement Berger didn't have trouble providing. Police found his child porn collection organized in binders. Also confiscated were numerous CDs.

"One of the CDs had over 500 movies on it that depicted children, under the age of 10, boys and girls with adult men engaged in some of the most horrific things that could be perpetrated against a child," Montgomery explained.

For possessing child pornography, a jury convicted Berger on 20 counts. He's now serving 200 years in prison. In an exclusive interview with 3TV, Berger said, "This is a case of morality and I can understand that. But if you're going to give 26 years to somebody who murdered somebody, um, I looked at a picture, is that worth 200 years? Or I should say I looked at 20 pictures."

Laurie Herman appealed Berger's sentence, arguing the crime doesn't fit the punishment.

"Everyone knows it's wrong, but not everyone knows that you're going to rot in prison for the rest of your life. It's reasonable to punish this type of conduct, but when the punishment goes beyond the intent of the crime, the intent of the punishment, then what are we really accomplishing?

Under Arizona law, possessing a single image of child pornography carries a mandatory 10-year sentence. Each count must be served consecutively.

Berger believes, "When we make laws, we should look at and see what the laws are really doing."

Herman points out, "If you commit second-degree murder of a child, you can be eligible to get out before you die, but if you possess the image, you are not going to get out of prison before you die. It's extremely frustrating because it seems to fly in the face of what the constitutional framers meant."

Montgomery acknowledges the discrepancy and suggests, "I'm fine with increasing the penalty for second-degree murder if we want to use as a baseline for porportionality the death of innocence and increasing other penalties, well then, let's look at that."

As for the possibility of ever reducing Arizona's current sentences for child pornography convictions, Montgomery said, "The impact over time in engaging in sexual exploitation of a minor and the size of that market and what's being done to children over time, you can rationalize why we would impose the sentences that we do there."

Studies show, of those who possess child pornography, 85 percent have also committed a sexual offense. As for Warner and Berger, Montgomery said, "If they haven't already abused a child it's by God's grace they were caught and stopped early."

Warner has pleaded not guilty to his charges. Berger has filed an appeal with the 9th circuit court.

Herman can be reached at 4295 N. 75th St. in Scottsdale, 480-990-1440.

For more information about the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and sex crimes investigations, visit www.maricopacountyattorney.org.