A Conway County man indicted in 2020 on child pornography charges was sentenced Friday to 10 years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright as part of a plea deal he negotiated with the U.S. attorney's office in Little Rock.
William Austin Palmer, 31, of Cleveland was indicted Dec. 1, 2020, on one count each of possession, distribution and advertisement of child pornography by a federal grand jury in Little Rock. Last November, Palmer pleaded guilty to the possession count in exchange for the government dismissing the other two counts against him.
Palmer was arrested Aug. 18, 2020, by Arkansas State Police on one count of distributing/possessing or viewing matter depicting sexually explicit conduct involving a child. The following Oct. 14, Palmer was charged in Conway County Circuit Court with 62 counts of distributing/possessing or viewing matter depicting sexually explicit conduct involving a child.
Those charges were dismissed after Palmer was federally indicted.
Palmer came to the attention of law enforcement in July 2020 when a Child Exploitation Task Force officer in Salt Lake City contacted Palmer online and Palmer sent a link to an account containing 66 videos and a file named "young girls" containing several videos of underage girls engaged in sexual activity.
A probable cause affidavit filed in Conway County Circuit Court said that Palmer told the officer he had assaulted young girls and was about to move in with a young girl. After tracing the account back to Palmer in mid-August 2020, he was arrested by Arkansas State Police.
Under U.S. sentencing guidelines, Palmer's sentencing range was 108 to 120 months in prison, a fine ranging from $30,000 to $250,000 and a term of supervised release ranging from five years to life.
Palmer's attorney, Christophe Tarver of the Federal Public Defender's Office in Little Rock, requested a guideline sentence for his client and asked Wright to recommend that Palmer be assigned to the federal prison in Forrest City so he would be housed close to his family.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristin Bryant also asked Wright to sentence Palmer within the sentencing guidelines, which she said were calculated at 108 to 135 months in prison, but because of the 10-year statutory maximum, the effective range was cut to 120 months at the top end.
"Taking into account the specific offense in this case, when the court looks at the [presentence report], the court can see that Mr. Palmer was essentially trying to arrange to have sex with a child," Bryant said. "He just made several inappropriate, vulgar comments about little girls and on top of that, possessed the materials with which he's been charged, I think a guideline sentence, considering the [federal sentencing] factors and Mr. Palmer as an individual, is an appropriate sentence."
Wright concurred with Bryant's assessment, saying that after her review of the presentence report and consideration of the sentencing factors laid out in the federal sentencing statutes, a guideline sentence was justified.
"He was actively trying to seek out children for the purpose of having sex with them," Wright said. "This was pretty apparent from the facts cited in the report and I find that a maximum sentence of 120 months is appropriate in this case."
After he is released from prison, Wright said Palmer will spend 10 years on supervised release with stringent conditions to be enforced by the U.S. Probation Office.
She recommended that Palmer receive a psycho-sexual evaluation once he is assigned in the Bureau of Prisons and that he enroll in sex offender and mental health counseling while he is in prison and once he is released.
According to an agreement reached between Palmer and the government, Wright ordered him to pay $3,000 restitution to each of his six victims, totaling $18,000. That amount, she said, would have to be paid immediately or any outstanding balance be paid at the rate of 50% per month of any funds he is credited with while in prison and following his release, at the rate of 10% per month of his gross monthly income to satisfy any remaining balance.
Wright told Palmer he would be prohibited from viewing or possessing pornography in any form "or any other material that would compromise your sex offender treatment." In addition, she ordered Palmer to avoid sex-themed businesses such as strip clubs, adult bookstores or other businesses of that nature.
"That's to keep you from being tempted to commit this offense again," she said.
"I totally understand," Palmer said.
Wright said once he is released from prison, Palmer may not possess or use computers, electronic communications devices or digital data storage devices without authorization. She said he will be prohibited from utilizing online gaming sites as well as accessing social media sites that allow minors to participate or that prohibit sex offenders.
"You're looking at a 10-year sentence," Wright said. "Now I can't predict the future and say what kind of devices will be in vogue when you're released, so I just can't tell you specifically what you can and can't do because technology advances so much ... You are not to possess or use these items -- whatever they might be -- without first getting permission from the probation office."
Wright also said once he is released Palmer would be prohibited from having direct contact with children unless authorized by the probation office and she ordered him to avoid playgrounds, parks, child care facilities and other places where children are likely to be.