Willard sentence upheld in St. Louis
St. Louis, Mo. -- The sentence of a Washington state man who flew to northwest Arkansas to meet in Eureka Springs to have sex with who he thought to be a juvenile female was upheld in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on June 16.
The following day, however, Steven Willard, 46, is reported to have committed suicide while incarcerated in federal prison in Lompoc, Calif.
According to his attorney, Cindy Baker, of Berryville, Willard was to have been under a suicide watch, and the incident is being investigated by federal authorities.
In August 2005, Willard was sentenced to 168 months in prison after pleading guilty in April to a federal charge of attempting to entice a juvenile to travel with intent to engage in a sexual act, and one count of transport of child pornography which traveled in interstate commerce by computer. Four other counts of interstate computer transport of child pornography were dismissed.
U.S. District Court of Western Arkansas Chief Justice Jimm Hendren also ordered Willard to pay a $200 special assessment and a $17,500 fine.
Willard was arrested in December 2004 at a Eureka Springs motel by local police and U.S. Immigration and Naturalization agents.
His arrest was the first for a Carroll County woman volunteering as a contributor with Perverted-Justice.com, an on-line watchdog group which has since been the subject of several NBC Dateline specials, and was recently commended by U.S. Sen. Orin Hatch for its work in encouraging the recent passage of the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act by the U.S. Senate.
Despite Willard's death, his sentence remains the longest one handed down to a defendant in a Perverted-Justice.com case.
On the other hand, a Carroll County Circuit Court plea agreement in May, in which Douglas Wade Burns, an Oklahoma City coach and Sunday School teacher was placed on one year of unsupervised probation with automatic registration as a sex offender, was one of the lightest sentences in "PeeJ" history. As a first-time offender, Burns is also eligible to have his record sealed after serving the sentence.
The Carroll County Pee-J contributor is one of only three in the state. Earlier this year she trained two deputies of the Benton County Sheriff's Office in on-line techniques she uses, and the three contributors joined forces in early June to conduct a seminar in Saline County attended by more than 30 deputies and policemen.