A Kansas man whose gruesome online chats about killing, roasting and eating children shocked even hardened child porn investigators was sentenced Wednesday to 30 years in prison.
And when investigators seized data from Michael D. Arnett’s computer last May, they found images of a naked and unidentified boy, no more than 2 years old, lying in a roasting pan and sitting in an oven. Agents determined the pictures had been taken in Arnett’s home, court records said.
Still, authorities said at the sentencing hearing that neither Arnett nor Ronald William Brown of Largo, Fla., ever acted on the grisly fantasies found in their online discussions.
Arnett, 38, of Roeland Park, pleaded guilty to one count of production of child pornography in February, hoping to persuade a Kansas City, Kan., federal judge to sentence him to only 20 years in prison, rather than the 30-year maximum.
But the scales of justice tipped away from the former paramedic who had an easy way with children when the father of the child in the roasting pan stepped up to testify. The horror of the year since Arnett’s arrest was clear in the father’s soft voice.
“That ain’t something to play with,” the father said. “That should never have been done. You were dealing with kids.”
A young man whom Arnett molested a decade ago recalled that he met him at a hospital. The young man’s brother was dying of cystic fibrosis. Arnett was working with patients and quickly became part of his life.
In the end, the young man said he was so scarred from his experience with Arnett that he was 18 years old before he realized that anal rape wasn’t a normal part of growing up.
And still he must contend with guilt.
“I could have saved a lot more kids if I had come in earlier,” he said in reference to Arnett’s arrest.
Owlish, round and balding, Arnett pleaded for mercy, saying that his online discussions were horrible “fantasy chats” and that he never subjected a child to the sort of violence he described there. But he acknowledged doing other terrible things to children.
“To all the children I’ve ever affected, I can never say I’m sorry enough,” Arnett said.
Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Chicago, said Arnett’s case was one of the worst he has seen since he began working child exploitation cases in the late 1980s.
“It’s nice to see these guys do this much time,” Hartwig said. “It’s good for Kansas and the country.”
The local investigation that led to Arnett began in late April 2012 when local Homeland Security Investigations agents received a request from their counterparts in Boston, who already were deep into an international child pornography inquiry that has become known as Operation Holitna.
About 130 images of three children who appeared to have ties to Johnson County had turned up on a Holitna suspect’s computer in Wisconsin. After speaking with teachers at a Johnson County elementary school, agents identified the children.
One of the boys then told investigators that he had been photographed years before at Arnett’s home in Roeland Park.
In analyzing Arnett’s computer, agents recovered thousands of lines of Yahoo chat in which the participants entertained each other with base and cruel descriptions of butchering and cooking children.
In one passage between Arnett and Brown, part of 17 pages of transcripts filed in Florida court records, the men imagine torturing a boy before killing him.
“I imagine his eyes would just be ready to bug out,” Brown wrote.
“Wet with tears,” Arnett replied. “So scared and helpless.”
“Probably trembling, trying to imagine his body being cut up and eaten,” Brown continued.
“Thinking of how much it will hurt to be chopped up,” Arnett wrote.
“I can assure him that he won’t feel a thing because he will be dead by then,” Brown corrected.
“His mind not thinking like a big boy anymore, fear reducing (h)im back to the level of a five-year-old, terrified and crying,” Arnett wrote.
Brown recently pleaded guilty in Florida to eight counts of receiving and possessing child pornography and awaits sentencing.
Hartwig said Homeland Security continues to work the Holitna network, which has identified or rescued 163 victims around the world. More than 50 suspects have been arrested in the U.S. and abroad.
And one of Arnett’s contacts may not have shared his reluctance to commit even greater violence on children, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Martin said at the sentencing hearing.
When agents searched the house of a Massachusetts man last summer, they found not only Arnett’s chats on his computer, but a soundproof basement and “child-sized cages” that would have allowed children to have been chained to the walls, Martin said.