Blaming himself for not viewing all the child pornography presented as evidence in a former Wheaton College professor's sentencing hearing, a judge Wednesday sharply reduced the man's sentence.
Three overlooked videos, Judge John Kinsella said, were "disgusting" but not as egregious as a DVD he did view before sentencing Donald Ratcliff in February to 42 months in prison.
Contact information ( * required )
"The contents of the DVDs were described to be the same (as the one he viewed in court), but they were not," Kinsella said in court. "I'm not suggesting this was innocent material because it's not. It's disgusting. But after re-examining all of the evidence I am compelled to reconsider the sentence."
Ratcliff's new sentence is 180 days in jail. And because of credit for time served, he should be a free man in May.
During Ratcliff's Feb. 26 sentencing hearing, Kinsella watched an 11-minute portion of a DVD of a file authorities pulled from Ratcliff's computer. It depicted the rape and degradation of a girl estimated to be between 5 and 8 years old.
Kinsella, at the time, called the material "as bad as one can imagine."
The three videos the judge did not watch showed young nude girls dancing and frolicking.
"I knew the judge was under the impression that the movies he did burn (onto a disk) had the same kind of stuff," defense attorney Brian Telander said following Wednesday's hearing. "They're disgusting, but they're different. The other three DVDs show young, naked girls dancing around and the lewd exposure of their genitalia. It's disgusting, but it's not depicting the rape of a child."
Assistant State's Attorney Mike Pawl objected to the inference "that there are levels of horrific types of child pornography" and called the original 42-month sentence "wholly appropriate."
But Kinsella said Ratcliff's collection was not as vile as he was led to believe. "The conclusion was not fully supported by the evidence," he said.
Telander had high praise for Kinsella.
"I am real impressed with Judge Kinsella because not only did he say, 'I was mistaken,' but he corrected it and did the right thing," Telander said. "Now Ratcliff is just like anybody else that has this case. It's disgusting, but the law provides for sentences of probation."
Ratcliff, 62, was charged in March 2012 after Carol Stream police found more than 500 images of child pornography on at least three of his seven home computers and three DVDs containing videos, authorities said.
He pleaded guilty to the aggravated child pornography charge last August in exchange for prosecutors dismissing six additional counts carrying a maximum prison term of 49 years because of consecutive sentencing laws for some child pornography offenses.
Ratcliff now could be freed from DuPage County jail by May 23. When released he must serve 20 days in the Sheriff's Work Alternative Program.
Ratcliff also will be on sex offender probation for four years, during which time he is not to own a computer, surf the Internet, have contact with minors nor be near schools. He must pay a $5,000 fine, which will come from the bond he posted at the time of his arrest.