Starr pleads guilty, could get 30 years

September 12, 2004|TODD KLEFFMAN

LEXINGTON - Mark Starr, who was teaching students at Boyle County Middle School six months ago, now faces up to 30 years in prison without parole after pleading guilty Friday to 10 federal counts of child pornography in U.S. District Court in Lexington.

Starr told U.S. District Judge Jennifer Coffman that he took pictures of the genitals of four girls, between the ages of 6 and 13, while they were sleeping. Starr had "care and custody" of the girls, three of whom were relatives. The fourth was a student at the middle school, according to court documents. The pictures were taken between September 2002 and December 2003 in Boyle County.

"Yes, I took the pictures," Starr softly admitted under questioning from Coffman.

Starr also told Coffman he had downloaded videos to his computer that depicted adult males engaging in various sex acts with minor girls. The videos ranged in length from six seconds to more than three minutes. Starr said he found the images by going to an Internet newsgroup and conducting a search using the word "youth."


Under his plea agreement, Starr will be sentenced to between 24 and 30 years in prison. Coffman said she will consider a report on Starr's criminal history, among other things, before passing final sentence on Dec. 2. He will remain in the Fayette County Detention Center until then and cannot receive parole under federal guidelines.

Starr, 33, taught technology and career explorations at the middle school for four years before being fired in March after two female students complained that Starr had videotaped them as they changed clothes at the school. Starr also had served as youth minister at Alum Springs First Church of God near Junction City.

Police found the images buried on computer hard drive

Kentucky State Police investigators confiscated computers Starr had access to at the school, the church and his home, eventually finding the pornographic images that Starr had tried to erase buried on a computer hard drive.

"He had erased everything but state police recovered everything electronically," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Wolander, who prosecuted the case. "The KSP forensics lab is one of the best electronic crime labs in the country."

Wolander said that investigators do not believe Starr ever sent out the pictures he took of the sleeping girls for distribution over the Internet, but added that those images have been inventoried and authorities will continue to monitor the Web to see if they show up.

At least one of the victims, who was not identified, was in the courtroom Friday along with several family members.

None of Starr's family was present.

Starr is still under state indictment in Boyle County Circuit Court on charges of using a minor in a sexual performance and tampering with physical evidence, both felonies. Wolander said that he expected Starr to also plead guilty to those charges soon "to alleviate children from having to testify during a trial." The victim in the Boyle case is also one of the victims involved in the federal charges, Wolander said.

Commonwealth's Attorney Richard Bottoms said Thursday, before Starr's guilty plea, that he would wait to learn of Starr's sentence and discuss it with the victim and her family before deciding on how to proceed with the state charges. Often, Bottoms said, federal penalties are stiffer than what could be imposed under state law, so state prosecutors often allow their federal counterparts to take a case to court.

Along with prison time, Starr could also face a fine of up to $250,000. He was also forced to surrender his teaching certificate.

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