Clews gets 17.5 years for child pornography possession, distribution

Two distinct and contradictory sides of Christian Clews emerged during a sentencing hearing on child pornography charges in a packed federal courtroom - a loving father, son and good friend eager to help anyone in trouble, and a predator with deviant sexual tastes who preyed on vulnerable teenage girls.

Those two aspects of the personality of Clews, 52, a Carmel Valley horse ranch owner and long-time member of the community planning board, were mirrored by the courtroom audience. On one side were supporters of Clews, while on the other were his alleged victims with their friends and relatives.

After listening to both sides, District Court Judge Dana Sabraw on Tuesday, Feb. 13, sentenced Clews to 17-and-a-half years in prison, for what the judge called a "deeply troubling" case.

Clews pleaded guilty to the two counts - one each of possessing and distributing child pornography - in July, charges which together carried a maximum sentence of 40 years. Sabraw ruled in favor of a sentencing enhancement requested by prosecutors, for what they said was a pattern of activity involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor.

The judge keyed in on that enhancement as setting Clews' case apart from others that have come before him.

"This case is different. There's a crossing of the great divide between simple possession and predatory conduct," Sabraw said.

Before Sabraw handed down the sentence, Clews - who wore a button-down shirt, tie, blue jeans and cowboy boots - addressed the court.

"I cannot adequately express how sorry I am this whole event happened," he said. He concluded by saying, "I do not find children sexually attractive at all," although he admitted to possessing and distributing the pornographic images. He was led off to begin serving his sentence immediately after the hearing.

Prosecutors presented the statements of five adult women who allege that Clews sexually abused them when they were teenagers. In at least two cases, the alleged victims identified themselves on videos found in Clews' possession when federal agents raided his ranch in the fall of 2016. In all, some 841 still images and 619 videos were found on Clews' computers, according to court documents.

In some of the videos, Clews' voice could be heard in the background, and he was believed to be operating the camera, according to statements made in court.

"There are so many victims, they're all children to start with," Sabraw said. "There has to be a day of accounting."

Although Clews' attorney, Jennifer Wirsching, stressed to Sabraw that Clews has no history of criminal convictions, the judge was swayed by the long period over which Clews' alleged actions occurred.

"This conduct has been going on for years. There's a 25-year history that's documented," Sabraw said.

Sabraw acknowledged 10 letters sent to the court urging lenience on Clews' behalf.

"They're speaking to one side of you that's very good and helpful to others," he said. "But there's another side that's very dark."

"He's abused his position to lure young girls to the ranch for horseback riding lessons, in order to satisfy his deviant sexual desires," which included bestiality and sadism, said the judge.

Prosecutor Renee Green noted that not only do the videos corroborate the alleged victims' statements, but texts sent by Clews also used similar language and described similar sex acts as alleged by the victims.

One alleged victim spoke in court and another wrote a statement which Green read.

The alleged victim, whose name was kept confidential, said she was "just a kid," when she was sexually abused by Clews. She said Clews should receive a proper sentence "for the horrific things he's done and the monster he is."

In the statement read by Green, the alleged victim wrote that Clews turned her against her parents, saying they wouldn't believe her if she told them about the sexual abuse, and the incidents have affected her life for more than a decade, souring her relationships with men and even with her own children.

"Now I feel it's time for (Clews) not to get what he wants," she wrote, "being incarcerated for so long he remains in handcuffs at his funeral."

Clews' supporters were equally passionate.

Lori Staehling, a real estate broker, wrote that Clews has expressed remorse for his actions, and her reaction during their discussions has been "far from positive." But she continues to like and respect him.

"Get to know him and you'll find he's honest to a fault, highly intelligent, although not particularly great with computers, a staunch Republican, a believer in God and Church, and always puts God and Family first. He's the guy you'd want in the life raft," she wrote.

"Most of his friends and colleagues have deserted him. I can't," she wrote.

Bunny Clews, the defendant's mother, wrote to the judge about how Clews, a former firefighter, at the age of 3 jumped into a pool and pushed a toddler to safety.

"Your honor, if it is in your power, I beg you for leniency and mercy for my son," she wrote.

Sabraw said he read the letters and was convinced of Clews' good deeds. But he said he wanted the sentencing to send a message to the community and deter other such crimes.

Possession of child pornography, he said, is not a victimless crime.

"It causes destruction in the lives of these children," he said.

Copyright © 2018, Del Mar Times
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