Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Raymond Highsmith - Former Leader of Shriners - Gets 3 years for Child Pornography

A one-time auxiliary police officer who spent 32 years as a Shriner and was once its local leader was sentenced Tuesday to three years in federal prison after admitting he had 12,000 child pornography images on his home computer.
Raymond Highsmith, 65, apologized to his family and to the Shriner community before he was led away in handcuffs.

"It hurts me deeply that they have received negative publicity," Highsmith said in U.S. District Court.
Highsmith was sentenced to less than half of what the government requested. Assistant U.S. Attorney Randy Stoker recommended a 6-1/2-year prison term.

U.S. District Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr. noted Highsmith's decades of public service, ongoing mental health issues and lack of a criminal record. The judge also said there was never any indication that Highsmith had inappropriate contact with children.
Highsmith served as the potentate, or president, of the Chesapeake-based Khedive Shrine Temple in 1995 and had been active in the group until he was expelled this summer when current leadership learned of his arrest.

The Shriners operate 22 hospitals that provide free care to children suffering from burns, orthopedic or spinal injuries, and lip and palate deformities. They are supported entirely by public donations and grants.
Locally, the Shriners focus on raising money for transporting children to one of their hospitals. Highsmith, who has a pilot's license and his own small plane, often flew the children and their parents to Shriner hospitals.
Highsmith became a Shriner in 1977 and was once in charge of what the group calls "the motor corps," the miniature cars the group is known for driving in parades. He also had been active in the national Shriners. In 1995, when he was elected to potentate, he took a year off to run the local chapter.

Several Shriners showed up in court Tuesday to show support for Highsmith, but they declined to comment afterward.

According to interviews, court records and testimony, Highsmith had been leading a successful life with a six-figure income as commercial manager for Kimnach Ford in Norfolk. He had no criminal record, not even a traffic ticket, and never abused drugs or alcohol. In the 1970s, he served as an auxiliary police officer in Virginia Beach.

"We never had any problem with him," Kimnach Chief Operating Officer W. Jon Wilkins said Tuesday on the witness stand. "Really, nothing at all to cause us any concern."

Highsmith's life began falling apart when his mother and stepfather died and his second wife left him, all in 2005.
The following fall, with the prospect of spending the holidays alone, he turned to child pornography, twice purchasing $80 subscriptions to Web sites offering illegal downloads.
Jeffrey Swartz, Highsmith's attorney, said his client's fixation on child pornography was short-lived. Federal agents raided Highsmith's home in December 2007 and seized his computer. Because of a backlog of cases, it took another year for a full forensic examination of the computer, which uncovered more than 12,000 images.

Highsmith was charged this January with possessing child pornography but tried to keep it secret. By June, he suspected his case would go public, humiliating himself and embarrassing his family and the Shriners, Swartz said.
The Pity-Me Trick
The night before his June 15 sentencing, Highsmith swallowed a handful of pills and, as his attorney explained, he expected not to wake up. When he woke the next morning, he then slit his wrists, Swartz said.
When Highsmith failed to show up for sentencing, an arrest warrant was issued. A magistrate judge, upon learning what had happened, ordered that Highsmith be sent to a psychiatric hospital for an evaluation.

Forensic psychologist David Keenan testified Tuesday that he examined Highsmith and determined that he had been suffering from severe depression but was not a threat to become a sociopath or a psychopath.

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