Josh Duggar was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison on Wednesday for receiving child sexual abuse material, including a video that one investigator described as among the worst he had ever seen.
The former star of the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting, which followed Duggar’s parents as they raised him and his many siblings in an ultraconservative household, was convicted in December in a trial that lasted over a week in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Prosecutors had asked that he serve the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while Duggar’s defense team had asked for five.
“Duggar has a deep-seated, pervasive, and violent sexual interest in children,” Assistant US Attorney Dustin Roberts wrote in a sentencing memo.
Both Duggar's wife, Anna, and father, Jim Bob, were in court in Fayetteville on Wednesday for the sentencing.
On Tuesday, District Judge Timothy Brooks issued a 29-page opinion rejecting Duggar's plea for a new trial. "There is no merit to Mr. Duggar’s argument in favor of acquittal," the judge wrote.
"There was significant evidence presented at trial to convince a reasonable jury that Mr. Duggar was physically present during the offense conduct and that he had the mens rea to commit these crimes," Judge Brooks wrote, using the legal term for the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing that constitutes part of a crime.
After a lengthy hearing Wednesday in which he heard a number of objections from the defense, the judge sentenced Duggar to 151 months in prison.
Authorities described Duggar, 34, as a “very savvy computer user” who tried to cover his tracks as he downloaded “sadistic and masochistic abuse” material in 2019.
Among the more than 600 images and videos that prosecutors said he downloaded was footage of prepubescent girls being raped, whipped, threatened with knives, and held naked in a dog cage.
Another video showed the rape and torture of a toddler — footage so terrible that a Homeland Security Investigations agent said it was among the most horrific things he had been forced to watch in his career.
“Distressingly, the market for child pornography has continued to grow, and to become more depraved, in recent years,” Roberts wrote. “That depravity is evident here.”
As evidence of the threat he posed, prosecutors also pointed to Duggar’s past molestation of five young girls, including his four younger sisters, around 2002 when he was a teenager. Some of the abuse happened when the girls were sleeping.
“His past behavior provides an alarming window into the extent of his sexual interest in children,” Roberts said.
In his own memo, Duggar’s defense attorney, Justin K. Gelfand, asked the judge to “temper…justice with mercy” and sentence him to five years in prison.
“If ever there were a defendant standing before this Court who is as committed to never finding himself anywhere close to this situation again, it is Duggar,” Gelfand wrote. “As he moves forward into the next chapter of his life, Duggar continues to have so much good to offer the world.”
His attorney argued Duggar has had to navigate “unique challenges associated with being in the public spotlight since childhood” and was devoted to his faith, wife, and seven children.
Duggar’s wife and his mother, Michelle, both pleaded in letters to the judge to reunite him with his family again soon.
But prosecutors said that by downloading the child sexual abuse material, Duggar had helped perpetuate the abuse by driving production.
They also included a statement from the mother of one of the unidentified victims who appeared in the material Duggar downloaded.
“My daughter is a real person. She was horribly victimized to provide this source of ‘entertainment,’” the woman said. “She is exploited anew each and every time an image of her suffering is copied, traded, or sold.”
The woman also passed on a message from her daughter to Duggar: “Don’t you know no one should do that to a little girl! Don’t you know it hurts!”