In a case that could have wide implications in prosecuting child molesters, a state appeals court has ruled against a former Cotati man who took hundreds of pornographic pictures of his 9-year-old daughter and distributed them by email.
George Clair, 39, who is serving a 59-years-to-life sentence for acts with his developmentally disabled daughter from 2006 to 2008, sought a sentence reduction from the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco based on three grounds.
He argued there was no proof he endangered the girl through conditions "likely to cause great bodily injury or death" and that the judge should have suspended execution of his sentence on three counts he claimed were similar to others.
Clair also argued his sentence on four counts of distributing child pornography should be suspended because they involved multiple emails sent in rapid succession to the same individual.
But in its published decision, the court disagreed with Clair, affirming the trial court's conclusions.
Sonoma County prosecutors said the appeals ruling clarifies what constitutes "great bodily injury," finding it encompasses mental suffering and physical harm the girl was exposed to.
"It's a different way of thinking of child-sex cases," said Juliette Olson, the deputy district attorney who tried Clair and won 46 felony convictions. "I hope it helps other prosecutors in the future."
Clair, who lived with his daughter in a trailer at the tow truck company where he worked, was arrested in 2008 after a tip to authorities by his Internet provider.
Hundreds of images, many taken in the trailer, were discovered on computer hard-drives and in cameras, according to the appeals court ruling.
He was convicted by a jury in 2009 after a nearly two-week trial.
The appeals court said the jury had ample evidence of physical injury through photographs Clair had taken of the child being sexually abused.
Also, it concluded the sentencing for each count of committing lewd and lascivious acts with a child was proper and that each email picture sent by Clair was a separate crime.
"Given (her) tender age and fragile physical development, the jury could have reasonably inferred that the manner of the abuse created a risk of serious injury," the three-judge panel of the court said.
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