SWAMPSCOTT — A now-former special education teacher from Swampscott pleaded guilty yesterday to charges of possessing child pornography.
Christopher Toler, 47, who until last year taught at the North Shore Educational Consortium in Beverly, a program for special needs students from area communities, will have to serve 90 days of a 21/2 year jail term imposed by Salem Superior Court Judge David Lowy.
Toler had no criminal record until he was charged last year. He will begin serving the committed portion of his sentence on June 27, after the judge granted him a delay in the start of the sentence so he can complete a vocational training program.
Toler is taking part in the training because, as a result of the charges, he will no longer be allowed to work in education, his lawyer, John Andrews, told the judge.
The case came to light last February when the Department of Homeland Security identified the IP (Internet protocol) addresses of visitors to a website called Liberal Morality.
Investigators questioned Toler at the school where he worked, and he admitted to viewing sexually explicit images of not only children but elderly people, prosecutor Jen Kirshenbaum told the judge.
Toler, apparently believing that child pornography was not illegal if one did not pay for it, told investigators that they would find the images on his home computer, which was seized.
Investigators charged Toler with possessing four images depicting naked children, some engaged in sexual activity with adult men, the prosecutor told the judge.
As Kirshenbaum addressed the court, Toler’s wife sat in the courtroom gallery, crying.
Kirshenbaum asked Lowy to sentence Toler to one to two years in state prison, arguing that child pornography cases are “generally undervalued” by courts.
Because of people with an interest in child pornography, the images continue to be produced, and “every time these images are viewed, it’s a re-victimization of these children,” the prosecutor said.
Lowy said he shares that view.
“This crime is just incomprehensible,” said the judge. “The supply doesn’t exist without the demand. These children wouldn’t be abused the way they are in these images if there wasn’t a demand.”
The prosecutor also cited concerns about the fact that Toler was a special education teacher.
“That’s concerning, given the nature of these charges,” she told Lowy.
Andrews, the defense lawyer, was quick to mention that there was “absolutely no evidence whatsoever, no suggestion, no complaints, that my client did anything involving anyone at the school.”
Toler lost his job as a result of the charges.
Andrews called his client “extraordinarily ashamed,” so much so that after police questioned him, he was hospitalized for a suicide attempt.
Andrews, who recommended a sentence of probation for Toler, said his client had dropped out of high school but eventually earned a master’s degree in education, a career that he now is barred from pursuing.
Under the terms of Lowy’s sentence, Toler will have to serve 90 days of a 21/2-year jail term, with the balance of that sentence suspended for three years.
While on probation, Toler will be required to continue sex offender counseling and have no unsupervised contact with children under 16. He is also barred from using the Internet.
A violation of any of those conditions could expose him not only to serving the balance of the jail term but up to five years on three remaining child pornography counts for which he was placed on probation.
Toler also must register as a sex offender when he is released from jail.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.