BRATTLEBORO - A Guilford man may avoid time behind bars after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography.

Justin Bywater, 36, on Thursday entered pleas to three felonies in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division. The proposed plea deal calls for a three to 12-year sentence, with that prison time suspended in favor of probation for the full 12 years.

A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled. And Judge David Suntag noted that he will make the final call on whether the plea bargain is appropriate.

"The decision on whether the agreement is going to be acceptable to the court and whether the sentence agreed to will be imposed will be made on another day," Suntag said.

Bywater was charged with five felony counts of child-porn possession in October. According to an affidavit, an Internet-protocol address that was the source of suspected child pornography had been traced to Bywater’s Weatherhead Hollow Road home.

Bywater subsequently "admitted that he has downloaded some things that he shouldn’t have," and police found five videos depicting child pornography on a computer seized from his home, the affidavit said.

The suspect told police that he was interested in pornography showing females aged 12 to 16, documents said. Also, investigators said Bywater acknowledged downloading child-porn videos for years and had only recently had tried to delete those files.

Bywater has been free on court-ordered conditions pending the resolution of his case; those conditions include strict limitations on his contact with juveniles.


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Last month, he was denied permission to attend his child’s baseball games, as Suntag had concerns that other families attending those events would not have been notified of Bywater’s presence and the allegations against him.

On Thursday, Suntag walked Bywater through the details of the charges to which he was pleading guilty. For each count, Bywater was admitting to possessing a video with a "visual depiction of sexual conduct by a child" on Oct. 18, 2013, at his home.

In answer to each of Suntag’s inquiries, Bywater quietly answered "yes" or "yes, sir."

Suntag also explained that, by pleading guilty, Bywater was giving up rights including the right to an appeal and the right to not talk about the case. In order to get through counseling, Suntag said, Bywater may be mandated to talk about his offenses.

Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years and a $10,000 fine. As part of the plea deal, the state attorney general’s office -- which is prosecuting this case -- is agreeing to drop the two other felony counts.

There will be a pre-sentence investigation conducted by the state Department of Corrections. Attorneys said Bywater already has undergone a psychosexual evaluation.

The proposed conditions of Bywater’s probation call for his inclusion in Vermont’s sex-offender registry and his completion of programming for sex offenders.

There are restrictions on his use of electronic devices: Court papers say that Bywater cannot "own, possess or use a camera, recorder, cell phone or other electronic device that has recording capabilities" without permission from his probation officer.

Also, the plea agreement says Bywater "may not access or loiter in places where children congregate, i.e. parks, playgrounds, schools, etc., unless otherwise approved in advance by your probation officer or designee."

Probation officials also would have to approve any contact between Bywater and males or females under age 16.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.