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WIESBADEN, Germany — The 25-year-old Army specialist pulled a few folded papers from his pocket, leaned back into the witness chair and haltingly read a statement pertaining to the child pornography case against him.

Spc. Benjamin C. Burden’s voice broke and then fell silent. Choking back tears, the bespectacled soldier loosened his black tie, cleared his throat and continued, though ever so tentatively.

As he has from the start of the investigation, Burden took responsibility for the crimes of possessing and distributing child pornography on his computer. He said he failed his family and friends, his unit and the Army. A defense attorney later noted during the general court-martial that Burden cooperated fully with police.

"I would love nothing more than to move past these terrible mistakes," Burden said toward the end of his statement.

Ninety minutes later, he crossed an important threshold.

Lt. Col. Edward O’Brien, the trial judge, sentenced the Kentucky native and former Eagle Scout to six months confinement, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade and a bad conduct discharge. Prosecutors had asked for a three-year sentence as part of a pre-trial plea agreement that, among other things, waived Burden’s right to face his accusers.

There was no jury, no trial witnesses and relatively few exhibits. Caught by German police in February for possessing and distributing images and videos of child pornography, Burden sought a speedy end to it all. He admitted to possessing and distributing 323 computer images and 23 videos of children in sexually explicit situations.

While he awaited trial, defense attorneys said, Burden would speak to members of his Wiesbaden-based unit, Company B, 1st Military Intelligence Battalion, telling them not to repeat his mistake. Despite such contrition, one colleague testified during the sentencing phase of the trial that many co-workers generally avoided interacting with Burden when the issue came to light.

Capt. Erin Joyce, the lead prosecutor, characterized Burden’s actions as "absolutely horrible and disgusting." One image that Burden downloaded, she said, showed the sexual abuse of a young toddler.

People need to remember, Joyce said, "the children on the other end of the computer screen."

Potentially, Burden could have been sentenced to 60 years in jail. But between the dropping of a lesser related offense, the pre-trial agreement, the judge’s take on things and Burden’s cooperation, the soldier will spend far less time behind bars.


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