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Sentencing continued in child sex abuse case

Downs given time to consider withdrawing pleas

A sentencing hearing for a Clearfield woman facing federal charges of child sexual abuse has been continued to allow her to consider possible withdrawal of guilty pleas entered in February.

Amanda Nichelle Downs, 31, entered pleas to production and attempted production of material depicting exploitation of a minor and possession of material depicting exploitation of a minor.

The charges stemmed from a cellphone video she made as her companion, Jackson Curtis Martin III, 47, of Clearfield, molested a child.

She sent a copy of the video to Martin, and it was shown to another person.

Clearfield police — after a lengthy investigation into the couple’s activities — brought multiple state charges against the couple.

Martin faces more than 1,800 counts related to child sexual abuse, while Downs faces 171 charges.

Both are charged with rape of a child.

With respect to the state charges, Martin is awaiting sentencing while Downs has yet to be tried.

Federal authorities also became interested in the case and filed charges against both Martin and Downs.

Both entered guilty pleas, and U.S. District Judge Stephanie L. Haines recently sentenced Martin to 420 months (35 years) in a federal prison.

When he completes his prison sentence, he must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

The Downs’ case, however, took another turn when she appeared before Haines for sentencing on June 23.

Haines advised Downs and her Johnstown attorney Arthur T. McQuillan that she was rejecting a plea agreement that was part of Downs’ guilty plea.

The judge explained that the number of years Downs will be required to serve in prison as suggested in the plea agreement is insufficient to satisfy statutory sentencing factors.

The federal sentencing statute requires judges to consider factors such as the seriousness of the crime, the deterrence to further crimes, the protection of the public and the rehabilitative needs of the defendant when imposing a sentence.

While Haines did not discuss the specifics of her rejection of the Downs’ plea agreement, she told Downs that she would be receiving “a higher sentence than the rejected sentencing range,” if she decided to continue with her guilty plea.

In presentence statements filed by McQuillan and Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen Sheehan-Balchon, the two sides were considering that the proper sentence for Downs would be in the 17- to 20-year range.

The defense argued that 17 years would be enough to satisfy federal sentencing requirements while the prosecution sought a 20-year sentence for Downs.

After the judge rejected the plea agreement, Downs was given the option of withdrawing her guilty pleas and going to trial or to continue with her guilty plea.

Her attorney asked for time to consider what to do, and this week asked for more time.

Haines rescheduled the Downs’ sentencing hearing for Nov. 17.

Martin meanwhile is serving his sentence at the Petersburg Federal Correctional Institution in Virginia. His release date is Sept. 21, 2049.

Downs remains in federal custody but is being housed in the Cambria County Prison.

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