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Predator who sexually abused visiting 4-year-old girl gets 60 years after judge refuses to let him back out of guilty plea

Andrew Stephen Couch

Andrew Stephen Couch (Knoxville Police Department)

A Knoxville, Tennessee man convicted of producing child pornography, including the videotaped sexual abuse of a 4-and-a-half-year-old girl visiting his home, was sentenced to serve six decades in federal prison after trying and failing to get out of his guilty plea.

Andrew Stephen Couch, 37, learned his punishment on Thursday in the Eastern District of Tennessee courtroom of U.S. District Judge Katherine A. Crytzer, a late 2020 Trump appointee involved in shepherding Justice Brett Kavanaugh through Senate confirmation hearings after his nomination to the Supreme Court. Krytzer sentenced Couch to serve 60 years — two 30-year sentences to run consecutively — plus a lifetime of supervised release.

Notably, Couch’s defense attorney Mike Whalen on Feb. 2 filed a motion to withdraw his client’s guilty plea to two child pornography production charges (counts 2 and 3 in the indictment).

“Looking at the plea agreement as a contract it is clear that a near tripling of the length of sentence would suggest that the parties did not reach a meeting of the minds and as such, Mr. Counch [sic] should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea,” the lawyer wrote.

In a sentencing memorandum from December 2022, the defense attorney had railed against the “non-elected” U.S. Sentencing Commission and its guidelines for recommending his client receive 60 years behind bars, rather than a “sufficient” punishment that is “not greater than necessary.”

“If, as in this case, the non mandatory Guidelines result in an absurd result, this Court should ignore those guidelines, consider the expectations of the parties in negotiating the contract they signed and apply the 18 U.S.C. 3553 factors to craft a sentence ‘sufficient, but not greater than necessary,’ to comply with the four purposes of sentencing set forth in Section 3553(a)(2),” Whalen argued, also arguing Couch was “a 37 year old man with serious charges but a very limited criminal history.”

The court did not ignore the guidelines and clearly did not agree with the characterization of Couch’s criminal history as “very limited.”

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“Defendant has significant prior experience with the criminal justice system, including six (6) prior adult criminal convictions. He is not a novice,” Judge Crytzer wrote in mid-March when listing six reasons why she rejected Couch’s motion to withdraw his plea. “Finally, the United States need not demonstrate any prejudice from the potential withdrawal of a guilty plea unless Defendant first establishes a fair and just reason for allowing the withdrawal.”

“The Defendant has not met his burden,” the judge added.

The Department of Justice emphasized that Couch had “thousands” of child pornography photos and videos of “unidentified” kids on his phone, plus videos of his sexual abuse of a young girl at his home.

“According to the filed plea agreement, in December 2019, after receiving a report that Couch was distributing child pornography, a search warrant was conducted at Couch’s home. Couch’s cellular phone was seized and forensically examined. Located on the cellular phone were multiple videos of child pornography produced by Couch wherein he was engaged in sexually explicit acts with a four-and-a-half-year-old female who was visiting Couch’s home,” the DOJ said in a press release. “Also on the cellular phone were thousands of other images and videos of child pornography of unidentified children.”

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.