A Pulaski County man who said the child pornography videos he downloaded were part of QAnon-inspired research into sex trafficking was sentenced Wednesday to serve 15 years behind bars, with another 60 years of prison time that was suspended but could be re-imposed if he violates the rules of post-release probation.
The county commonwealth’s attorney laid into Richard Dalton Simpson, 55, after the sentencing hearing, saying the defendant was “an immoral deviant” and “infested with a perversion.”
The case of Simpson, who pleaded guilty in June to 15 counts of possessing child pornography, was unusual in several ways, attorneys said after the hearing.
The 75-year sentence that Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Brad Finch decided upon – the prison term is to be suspended after Simpson serves 15 years – was on the long side for child pornography cases, but was driven by factors that included the “uniquely graphic” nature of the child sex videos that Simpson downloaded, Commonwealth’s Attorney Justin Griffith said Thursday.
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Also uncommon was the statement that Griffith emailed to media organizations on Wednesday evening, condemning Simpson and thanking organizations that assisted in his arrest. Since becoming commonwealth’s attorney two years ago, Griffith, a Republican, has periodically issued strongly worded broadsides about cases or state politics, making them a personal trademark that sets him apart from other elected prosecutors in the region.
And there was the involvement of QAnon, the Donald Trump-fixated conspiracy theory that postulates that the former president is in a cosmic battle against child sex traffickers led by high-ranking members of the Democratic Party. Defense attorney Dave Rhodes of Christiansburg said Thursday that Simpson and some of his relatives became caught up in QAnon and decided to start searching online for links between various public figures and child sex.
Simpson did not find any links to public figures but he did find child pornography, Rhodes said.
Arrested in January, Simpson at first said that someone must have hacked his phone and put the child pornography videos there, Rhodes said. Later, though, Simpson acknowledged that however the videos arrived, he knew they were there and did not immediately remove them, Rhodes said.
Griffith’s statement described the case this way: “When a 55-year-old man is in possession of child pornography, he is infested with a perversion that is not acceptable in our community and God willing, nowhere … Justice can have many faces and today, that face is the eradication of freedom of a man who walked amongst us. He blended with us as a member of this community, but was in reality, an immoral deviant who deserved the punishment that was doled out.”
On Thursday, Griffith said that his statement was in reference to Simpson’s involvement with child pornography, not whatever QAnon-linked beliefs he held.
Griffith said that Simpson’s case began when the Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, which operates from the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, noticed suspicious downloading activity that traced back to Pulaski County. The task force notified the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, which launched an investigation with the Virginia State Police.
That led to Simpson, whose phone and other electronic devices were found to have 15 videos that Griffith said “did stand apart from other cases” in their depictions of the sexual abuse of children.
Griffith said that he thought the nature of the videos, along with Simpson’s apparent lack of remorse, brought the long sentence.