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Monday, June 2, 2008

76-year-old gets seven years

By Jean Matheson/Contributor

A town of Lafayette man who has lived his entire 76 years in the same neighborhood was sentenced Thursday to seven years in prison for possessing pornographic photographs of children, many of them relatives and neighbors.

A jury in April convicted Bruce T. Barker, who lived at N6632 Bowers Road, of 14 felony counts of possessing child pornography. He readily admitted to jurors that he took the photos and admitted, too, to sexually assaulting the children.

Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss said earlier he could not charge Barker with the more serious crime of sexually assaulting children because most of those assaults occurred in the 1980s, when the state's statute of limitations on child sexual assault was six years. The state Legislature has since extended the limit to 35 years.

Judge James Carlson, in sending Barker to prison, said he had displayed "unbelievably shocking conduct with neighbors and relatives that had caused great turmoil."

"It's somewhat ironic," Carlson added, "that people usually take pictures so that later they can recapture the good things in life."

Barker was arrested Jan. 12, 2007 after sheriff's deputies found an assortment of pornographic photographs of children with Barker that was hidden behind insulation material in his basement. The search of Barker's property was prompted by the complaint of a 32-year-old relative of Barker's who said he had been assaulted by Barker when he was a child. The man said he decided to come forward because he was concerned about children of another relative who frequently visited Barker's home.

The same man told the judge at Thursday's sentencing that Barker should be sent to prison "for long enough to be out of our lives," saying Barker had shown no remorse for his actions.

Koss, noting that a state probation agent had recommended a three-year prison term for Barker, said he thought that term was not long enough but made no specific recommendation to the judge.

"It's certainly one of a parent's worst nightmares for a child to be victimized and especially to be victimized by someone the child knows," Koss said.

Defense attorney Larry Steen argued that Barker could be rehabilitated by being placed on probation and monitored. If he is sent to prison, Steen said, he probably will be housed in an infirmary unit at a cost of $85,000 a year. Barker, who never made it past the fifth grade in school, now uses a walker and has trouble with his memory, Steen said.

"If he is sentenced to prison, you're basically providing a nursing home for him at the taxpayers' expense," he said.

Three neighbors of Barker's testified on his behalf, saying they had never witnessed nor suspected he was involved in improper activities.

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