A judge on Tuesday with the Court of Appeals of Virginia denied the appeal of a Greene County man who received one of the longest prison sentences in Virginia history for child pornography-related charges earlier this year.
Christopher Mark Garrison, 49, of Stanardsville was found guilty on July 25, 2018, on 43 counts related to possession, distribution and manufacturing child pornography, as well as soliciting minors online. The jury recommended a 291-year sentence, which was upheld by Circuit Court Judge Dale Durrer in January.
“We take sexual offenses very seriously, which is why there was such a lengthy sentence in this case,” said Greene County Commonwealth’s Attorney Matthew Hardin. “But, we also make sure every defendant gets a fair trial. I’m glad the court of appeals recognized that Mr. Garrison’s trial was fair and upheld his sentence of 291 years, which was one of the longest in Virginia history.”
The opinion from the appeals court strikes down every complaint in the petition, filed by John Maus, Garrison’s attorney.
Maus had argued for a 60-year sentence during the trial, running the solicitation charges concurrently with the possession and distribution charges.
Maus said the court erred by not allowing him to inform the jury about mandatory minimum punishments during the guilt phase of the trial.
The appeals court, citing Walls v. Commonwealth, said the reason to include mandatory minimum information during a guilt phase is to encourage a jury not to find a defendant guilty even if the evidence shows he could be, and denied the appeal.
Maus also alleged the trial court made a mistake in not calling Garrison’s niece to testify, whose testimony would have been that she found her cousin using a computer to watch pornography.
The trial court noted in its decision at trial not to allow the testimony that the computer the nephew used at the other home was not Garrison’s computer and did not demonstrate that he was viewing child pornography, to which the appeals court agreed.
Additionally, Maus said the prosecution showed images of child pornography during the trial that Garrison was not charged with.
“The trial court abused its discretion by failing to balance any probative value against the prejudice to the defendant. Allowing the jury to see evidence of substantial misconduct with which the defendant was not charged was highly prejudicial,” court documents state.
However, the decision from the appeals court notes the quantity “tended to negate any suggestion that it had been downloaded mistakenly or inadvertently.”
Additionally, the trial judge told prosecutors they could not use the word “thousands” of images of child pornography in his directions showcasing additional images.
“Because the trial court reviewed the evidence before trial and took precautionary measures, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the challenged evidence,” appeals court records show.
Garrison has 14 days from Oct. 15 to appeal the decision to a full three-judge appeals panel if there are errors in the denial, records show. At press time, he had not done so.