Judge reviewing child porn plea

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BENNINGTON — A judge is reviewing a plea agreement for a local man accused of possessing child pornography.

John E. Sumner Jr., 32, was charged with five felony charges at his arraignment two years ago. Another judge previously expressed concerns over a plea agreement between the Vermont attorney general's office, which is prosecuting the case, and the defendant's former attorney.

Judge David A. Howard said during a status conference Monday that he would review a proposed plea agreement and pre-sentence investigation report. Judge William D. Cohen, the presiding judge for the county's criminal unit up until last month, had previously not accepted the plea.

The agreement called for a two-to-ten year suspended sentence, during which Sumner would be under probation and sex offender conditions, Sumner's attorney, Daniel M. McManus, told Howard.

The state is still willing to abide by the original agreement, said Ultan Doyle, a prosecutor with the Vermont attorney general's office.

The case stems from an investigation by the state attorney general's office from the spring of 2015. Microsoft provided information to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). One tip from Microsoft describes a photo that had been downloaded to Sumner's cell phone depicting an "infant girl" and three other photos that showed children younger than 2, according to a court affidavit.

Sumner would later tell investigators he viewed the images on his phone and said he learned about the website while he was incarcerated. Sumner denied ever making child pornography.

Sumner pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court Bennington Criminal Division in September 2015 to five felony counts and one misdemeanor count of possession of child pornography.

Sumner was represented by attorney K. James Malady III until February.

Doyle, who spoke in court via telephone this week, said the state made another offer to Sumner, but Malady withdrew shortly after.

Howard said that if he didn't find anything wrong with the agreement, he would have the case set for a sentencing hearing.

Reach staff writer Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.

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