Almost one year ago, 46-year-old Matthew John Stickle was sentenced to 185 years in prison for possessing and distributing child pornography.
The Stickle case is not closed, however, and is in the process of an appeal.
With one year down and 184 years left of his sentence, Stickle has been granted an appeal by a Virginia Court of Appeals judge.
While the appeal process has only just started, and does not guarantee Stickle will be granted a new trial, an appellate court judge has opened the door to hear argument on why the Stickle trial could have been unlawful.
The appeal was granted Feb. 13 on three “assignments of error” in the previous trial in the Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court, which were raised by defense attorney Patricia Nagel, according to Court of Appeals of Virginia court documents.
The three issues granted by the appellate court judge are outlined in a petition filed Sept. 29 in the Court of Appeals. The three issues involve three indictments introduced in a re-trial, insufficient evidence and failure to suppress evidence obtained through an unlawful search, an order by an appeals court judge states.
“There were enough issues she cited – one is a very legitimate one that I thought the court of appeals might grant – that I figured the court of appeals might be interested in,” said Nate Green, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Williamsburg-James City County Court, who originally prosecuted the case.
“Those three are exactly what I would’ve expected,” Green said, adding that the three issues raised by Nagel are “pretty standard appellate issues.”
Stickle was arrested in December 2013 after police received a report of distribution of child pornography, Williamsburg Police said. Stickle was sentenced to 185 years in prison after one mistrial in June 2015, and a second trial in March 2016, which ended with a conviction.
Now, Nagel will be able to argue her belief that the trial was unlawful against the Virginia Attorney General’s Office on the three appeal issues granted in February by the appellate judge. A judge may affirm or overturn the lower court’s previous ruling after hearing argument from the defense and attorney general.
The appeals process is “very lengthy,” Green said, adding that of all the Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court cases that have been appealed since he was elected as Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2001 have not made it back to Williamsburg for a retrial.
The Stickle case, specifically the original manufacturing child pornography charges, was also the basis of a bill proposed by Sen. Thomas Norment, R-James City, in early February.
Green was not able to prosecute three charges of manufacturing pornography against Stickle in his first trial because the three evidence videos, depicting Stickle with a child, were produced outside of Virginia. The videos were reintroduced in Stickle’s second trial and prosecuted as possession of child pornography charges instead. The three charges connected to the videos are the subject of one issue an appeal was granted on.
The challenge prompted Green to ask Norment to propose a bill that would heighten the minimum sentences for possession of child pornography under certain circumstances, including if the accused themselves appeared in the pornography.
The bill was met with apprehension and some confusion from other General Assembly members before being struck down, according to the Daily Press. Some senators believed the bill may lower the minimum and maximum sentences for people convicted of producing child pornography.
“What if we had a guy who obviously manufactured videos, but all he did was possess them here in Virginia?” Green said. “We didn’t want that type of individual looking at the same sentencing range as someone who just downloaded a child pornography video from Russia or somewhere else.”
The proposed bill would have raised the sentencing range for possession of child pornography to five to 20 years for a person who produced or was involved in the material they possessed, Green said.
While the Stickle case ended with a 185-year sentence, with which Green said he thought “justice was done,” he said other similar cases may not end the same way under current state code.
Stickle’s sentence was higher, not because he was depicted in three videos, but because he was charged with possession with intent to distribute, which carries a higher sentence, Green said.
Norment did not immediately return a phone message left with a spokesman Tuesday afternoon.
A message left with Nagel was also not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.
Click here to read more about the three issues granted by the appellate court judge.
Fearing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.