VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WRIC) — The former assistant dean of a private christian college in Virginia Beach pleaded guilty to possessing over 500 files of child sexual abuse earlier this year, and has now been sentenced to 6 years in prison.
Robert Scott Morris, 37, used a “peer-to-peer” file sharing program to download child pornography involving children as young as 1 year old, according to a statement of facts signed by Morris as part of his plea agreement.
Until he was arrested, Morris was the assistant dean of students for Wave Leadership College, a christian college that trains ministers, located in Virginia Beach.
Morris has been ordered to pay $14,000 in restitution to the identified victims exploited in the images he obtained.
Before he began working at Wave Leadership College, Morris was in and out of the navy. He first enlisted, according to a sentencing letter submitted by his lawyer, in 2004, just after graduating from high school.
He left active duty in 2008, then was discharged from the reserves in 2011. In 2012, he sought to become a youth minister, receiving a degree from Colorado Christian University, but later returned to the navy in 2017.
Finally, in January 2021, he was discharged from the navy after he “received Non-Judicial Punishment” for sexual harassment, though he was never criminally prosecuted.
Plea for Leniency
In their sentencing letter, Morris’ defense counsel called for a sentence of five years — the mandatory minimum — pointing to his commitment to receiving treatment from a local psychologist and his cooperation with authorities.
They also claimed that Morris’ offenses were comparatively minor in the context of most child pornography offenses.
“In Robert’s case, he has been attributed with 897 images, which is significantly lower than frequently seen in similar cases,” they wrote. “Robert was not engaged in “chats” with others involved in the possession of child pornography via messaging applications.”
But those claims were contradicted by the sentencing memorandum submitted by prosecutors and the statement of facts agreed to by Morris himself.
“In addition to obtaining child pornography files, the forensic review of the defendant’s electronic devices also revealed chat messages between early November 2021 and February 2022, which pertained to trading material involving the sexual exploitation of children and chatting about photos of nude teens,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing letter.
And although Morris may have only been in possession of 897 images depicting explicit sexual abuse, he also admitted to possessing a hard drive with over 11,000 files of “child erotica.”
Prosecutors called for a sentence of 8 years, in addition to a period of supervised release that would see him barred from working with minors and subject to remote monitoring of his internet usage.
Morris was ultimately sentenced to 6 years in prison by a federal judge in December 16.