Texas man sentenced for sexually exploiting Indiana child through Instagram

Crime

INDIANAPOLIS — A Texas man was sentenced to over 23 years in prison for sexual exploitation of a child by using Instagram to deceive and force an Indiana teenager to send sexually explicit photos and videos of herself to him.

In December 2018, 37-year-old Marcus Pettus from Texas posed as a 15-year-old boy on Instagram and began following the minor, sending direct messages and “selfies” of the teenage boy and saying it was him. The victim had told Pettus she was 14 years old and in 8th grade.

Eventually, Pettus enticed her to be his “girlfriend,” and began directing her to send him sexually explicit photos and videos of herself. He had instructed the victim how to dress, wear her hair and if she should wear makeup — he also sent images of nude women in various positions and directed that the minor send images of herself posed in the same way.

Pettus also enticed the child to send videos and photos of herself engaging in sexual acts, as well as acts of self-harm, such as choking and gagging. When she protested, Pettus threatened to harm himself, and manipulated the victim into sending more sexually explicit material. He was arrested after the victim and her parents reported the incident to law enforcement.

“This case represents any parent’s worst nightmare. The lengthy prison sentence should send a message that those who seek to prey on children—particularly those who hide behind the anonymity of the internet—will be caught and held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” said Acting United States Attorney John E. Childress in a press release. “Protecting our youth from cybercriminals and sexual predators will always remain a top priority of this office.”

The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Investigation and the Hamilton County Metro Child Exploitation Task Force.

“The Hamilton County Metro Child Exploitation Task Force is thankful to our federal partners for allowing us to pursue those that harm our children, regardless of where they reside,” said Fishers Police Detective Lieutenant David Flynn. “We will continue to work with agencies that help us best protect our children and keep our communities safe. With Mr. Pettus in prison, we have one less predator endangering our youth.”

Assistant United States Attorney MaryAnn T. Mindrum, who prosecuted the case, said that Pettus will also serve ten years of supervised release following his prison term and must pay $9,000 in restitution to the victim.

In the fiscal year 2019 when this case was prosecuted, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Indiana prosecuted the second-most cases involving the sexual exploitation of a child in the country.

“HSI is dedicated to protecting our most vulnerable population against sexual predators,” said HSI Chicago’s R. Sean Fitzgerald. “This sentence sends an important message that we will not allow any crime against children to go unpunished and we will continue to work with our law enforcement and prosecuting partners to hold predators accountable for their actions.”

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