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Who is Wesley Hawkins? Ketanji Brown Jackson grilled over reducing teen sex offender's sentence to 3 MONTHS

Jackson, who presided over the case, was accused of essentially letting Hawkins off with a light prison sentence of three months
UPDATED MAR 24, 2022
Ketanji Jackson (L) sentenced child porn offender Wesley Hawkins (R) to three months in prison in 2013 (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images, CSOSA)
Ketanji Jackson (L) sentenced child porn offender Wesley Hawkins (R) to three months in prison in 2013 (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images, CSOSA)

As the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson picked up steam, Republican senators zeroed in on a particular case from 2013 in which she allegedly gave light sentencing to a teenager who pleaded guilty to child porn charges.

Sen Josh Hawley grilled Jackson on Tuesday about her past leniency on sex offenders. The Arkansas Republican brought up the 2013 case of Wesley Keith Hawkins, 27, who was 18 when his laptop was found to contain graphic and disturbing videos of young victims who allegedly lived in the same house as him. Jackson, who presided over the case, was accused of essentially letting Hawkins off with a light prison sentence of three months followed by several years of supervised release, BizPacReview reported.


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The New York Times reported that Hawkins was a "gay boy from a religious family that strongly disapproved of homosexuality." His family's staunch disapproval of the lifestyle made Hawkins curious about the images, and his connection to the people in them was “one of identifying” rather than of “exploiting them sexually," his lawyer claimed.

It's worth noting that there were several extremely disturbing images showing young boys engaged in a variety of sex acts, some of them even violent. Law enforcement officials for a "cyber tip" after Hawkins posted some of the shocking media onto YouTube, and soon a police detective posing as a fellow child porn enthusiast reached out to him by email suggested they exchange images.

Hawkins went on to trade images with the undercover detective, even asking for what he believed were photos of the latter's 12-year-old daughter. In June 2013, Hawkins was arrested and prosecutors noted that he “took full responsibility for his actions," the Times reported.

In September that year, Hawkins pleaded guilty to downloading and trading scores of images and movies containing child pornography, several showing boys who were under the age of 13. Hawkins's lawyer Jonathan Jeffreys argued during sentencing that his client had indicated “no interest whatsoever” in the undercover detective’s repeated suggestions of a real-life sexual encounter. Meanwhile, Jeffreys also submitted an evaluation by a psychologist who declared that Hawkins did not "demonstrate sexual deviation” but his interest in child porn was “a way for him to explore his curiosity about homosexual activity and connect with his emotional peers.”

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on March 23, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Furthermore, Hawkins wrote a brief letter to Judge Jackson expressing remorse and regret over his actions. “I have disappointed everyone in my family and everyone who has ever cared about me,” he wrote. “I hope that I can make up for my mistakes and that this will not end my life before it starts. I swear that I will never do this again or any crime ever in my life.” Prosecutors, while deeming the case "very unique," asked for a two-year sentence arguing that Hawkins's possession of the material was “extremely troubling and deserving of punishment.” On the other hand, Hawkins's lawyer asked for a single day in prison claiming his client was young, remorseful, and suffered from “emerging mental illness.”

Both sides presented their arguments and cited various precedents to strengthen their case. In November 2013, Jackson — who was then in her first year on the federal bench in Washington — handed down a three-month prison sentence followed by six years of supervised release. Describing the case as "a truly difficult situation," Jackson issued a sentence lower than the ones recommended both by the probation department as well as federal sentencing guidelines.

The judge agreed with the defense that Hawkins "should not be thought of as a pedophile" because he was "fairly close in age to the children depicted in the images he had," according to the Times. Despite admitting that Hawkins’s crimes were “serious” and “heinous,” Jackson said his case was not as troubling as some others she had seen. “I do not believe that you are similar in intent or as culpable as some of the depraved older adults,” she said at the time.


Judge Jackson acknowledged that the minors in the pornography Hawkins possessed had been forced to commit “unspeakable acts” for “the gratification of sick people everywhere.” She added that some would never have a “normal adult relationship” while others might turn to drugs “to deal emotionally with the pain.” However, she also noted that Hawkins hadn't produced any child porn himself and that he had "only watched such material for less than a year." She also said he was young and had the rest of his life ahead of him, adding, “It is tragic that you permitted your curiosity to jeopardize all of that." There are claims that Hawkins re-offended in 2019, but that couldn't be verified. He registered as a sex offender on October 28, 2014, per the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA).