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With a few keystrokes and mouse clicks, Steven Brian Nelson told a federal judge Wednesday, he destroyed his family and caused them "unbearable grief, pain and suffering. All because I was too afraid to tell someone I had a problem."

Nelson's problem was that he was looking at child pornography on his work computer. Nelson, of Billings, formerly worked as an accountant for the Indian Health Service.

And when he got caught, Nelson said, he felt as though a burden had been lifted. "Finally, I could do something about this," he said. "I'm a better person now for having gone through this ordeal."

Nelson got into treatment before getting an attorney's advice and cooperating with investigators, even taking his computer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Nelson's acceptance of responsibility and cooperation ultimately helped him avoid prison.

Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Shanstrom agreed to a defense request to depart downward from the guidelines and sentenced Nelson to eight months at a community corrections center and three years of supervised release, to include eight months of electronic home monitoring. The judge also ordered Nelson to register as a sex offender and to continue sex offender therapy.

Shanstrom noted Nelson's unusual level of acceptance of responsibility, cooperation and significant progress through treatment.

Nelson faced between 27 months and 33 months in prison after pleading guilty in December to counts of receiving and possessing child pornography. Nelson admitted that he had been viewing child pornography since 1998.

According to the U.S. attorney's office, the Indian Health Service office in Albuquerque noticed in July 2000 that Nelson's computer was being used to download significant amounts of information from what turned out to be child pornography sites. When Nelson learned he might be questioned about what was on his computer, he tried to erase the evidence.

At sentencing, defense attorney Vernon Woodward said Nelson deserved mercy.

"Steve Nelson is one of the most repentant individuals to stand before the court," Woodward said. Nelson is unusual because when he was caught, he readily confessed to his employer, cooperated with investigators, talked to his family and sought help, he said.

Phil House, a psychologist who testified on behalf of Nelson, said Nelson has made significant progress in 20 months and that he considered him at low risk to re-offend.

Shanstrom also received a number of letters of support for Nelson.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcia Good Sept said she did not agree with a downward departure for sentencing and noted the office's policy not to enter plea agreements in child pornography cases. She did not dispute the level of cooperation or Nelson's efforts at therapy. Sept left sentencing to the court's discretion but asked that the judge balance rehabilitation with punishment.

In other cases, Shanstrom sentenced Rene Cruz, a citizen of Mexico, to 24 months in prison on charges of re-entering the United States after having been previously arrested and deported. Cruz was found in the United States last June 20 after he had been deported on March 9, 2001, for conviction on an aggravated felony. After Cruz serves his sentence, he is to be sent to U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for deportation.

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