William Wolfenbarger was sentenced last Wednesday and will serve two years in state prison after pleading guilty the week prior in court to possessing more than 4,000 images of child pornography.
With the Deputy District Attorney seeking the maximum three-year prison sentence, and defense attorney Albert Smith seeking probation for his client, presiding Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Thompson elected to sentence the former Colusa County Office of Education special education paraeducator to the mid-term, two-year sentence.
Thompson denied probation on the grounds that it would “diminish the seriousness of the offense,” but chose the middle term because of Wolfenbarger’s lack of a criminal record and his “action of coming forward, albeit inadequate.” Wolfenbarger will be required to register as a sex offender, will be barred from owning firearms and ammunition, and must pay more than $1,500 in various fines. He will be required to provide DNA and fingerprints, and have three years of post-release community supervision after his release.
In Feb. 2016, Wolfenbarger was arrested on suspicion of violating two of California’s peeping tom laws, which spurred a months-long investigation by the Colusa County Sheriff’s Office and FBI Electronic Crimes Unit, and ultimately led to the discovery of the collection of child pornography on Wolfenbarger’s computers. While the District Attorney’s Office did not end up filing charges for the invasion of privacy, two family members of the minor victim that Wolfenbarger allegedly recorded made statements prior to his sentence being handed down.
The victim’s father called Wolfenbarger a predator and said that the “effects this situation has had on his children is forever life-changing…” and that he hoped Wolfenbarger would “go to prison for as long as possible and have to stay away from children.”
The victim’s father also expressed his anger at Wolfenbarger’s wife, Rachael Wolfenbarger, for not reporting her husband’s behavior toward the minor, saying that “one of the greatest tragedies of this situation is that (Rachael Wolfenbarger) stands by your side, rather than protecting (the minor).”
Rachel Wolfenbarger was arrested on suspicion of felonious child endangerment on Oct. 11, 2016, pleaded not guilty, and is due back in court for further arraignment on April 18.
The minor’s grandmother also read a letter she submitted to the district attorney’s office in which she said, “William Wolfenbarger had worn his mask long enough. Thank you for taking the mask off and exposing William Wolfenbarger for what he is… William Wolfenbarger needs to be locked away. My hope is that he stays locked up.”
Before Wolfenbarger was sentenced for possessing the cache of child pornography, Deputy District Attorney Brendan Farrell asked Thompson to impose the maximum, three-year sentence, citing the large number of images, the young age of the children depicted, and the fact that Wolfenbarger “sought out (the images) on secure sites. He also said that there was an added measure of “callousness and viciousness in this case” because of the nature of his work in education, which would have included training in mandated reporting.
Smith responded that his client had no prior offenses and was “truly remorseful” for his actions, and was “found out because of his ‘confession’ email while he was seeking treatment” for his addition to child pornography.
“That is the very essence of remorse,” Smith said, before requesting that his client receive probation. “I’m not trying to excuse his behavior. He sought help for what he saw as a mental failing on his part.”
Smith added that – only if the court believed probation was not appropriate – he was requesting the lower term for his client because of Wolfenbarger’s early admission and the fact that he had zero prior offenses.
Farrell responded that he disagreed that Wolfenbarger willingly came forward, noting that rather than going to the police, he was seeking help on an online website. It was revealed during the hearing that someone from that website notified the authorities of Wolfenbarger recording a minor.
“Someone there took appropriate action and reported it,” Farrell said.
After Thompson decided on the middle term sentence, Wolfenbarger was handcuffed and transported to the Colusa County Jail. From there, Wolfenbarger will be sent to a reception center for processing and transfer to an institution, where he will serve his two-year sentence.■