CONYERS -- A Conyers man pleaded guilty this week to several child exploitation charges in connection with a December 2009 incident that eventually led to an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Cyber Crime Task Force.
Michael Deweese Smith, 52, appeared before Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation on Wednesday morning and pleaded guilty to two counts of unlawful surveillance and seven counts of sexual exploitation of children under a negotiated plea deal with the state.
Nation sentenced the man to 12 years with eight years to be served in confinement, the state attorney's recommendation.
Assistant District Attorney Dabney Kentner explained Smith was living with his girlfriend at the time and the woman's two children, ages 20 and 16, discovered a hidden camera in their bathroom.
According to Kentner, the woman's daughter had just finished using the bathroom and turned off the overhead light when she noticed a blinking green light in a decorative plant. The daughter and son discovered it was a very small surveillance camera.
The plant was positioned over the toilet that was used exclusively by the children, Kentner told the court.
Recovered footage from the video showed Smith placing the camera in the plant.
Police were called to the residence and Smith was later arrested.
Police recovered a laptop in Smith's vehicle that included several videos of the children showering and using the toilet.
"Additionally, while searching the hard drive of the laptop, law enforcement found approximately 200 images of other children engaged in sexually explicit acts," Kentner said.
She said the FBI's cyber crime task force discovered through an international pornography investigation that the images were of a young girl who was being sexually abused by her biological father.
Kentner said the two victims Smith videotaped saw him as "a father figure."
"To say their trust was betrayed would be an absolute understatement," Kentner said.
She said the children's lives have been "dramatically affected."
"(One of the victims) lived in constant fear that these images of her may have been distributed to someone else and they may be on the Internet," Kentner said. "This was devastating to her, and I suspect it will continue to be so."
Local attorney Wendi Armstrong defended Smith and said the images of the children were not distributed. Armstrong added that Smith was a cinematographer.
"Not by way of justification, by any means, but as an explanation, perhaps, of the events leading up to this," Armstrong said, adding that he was taking medication for a disease that may have affected his behavior.
Smith apologized to the court. He said he still cared about the children.
Nation followed the state's recommendation and ordered Smith to pay a $2,500 fine and have no contact with the children or the children's mother.
"If it wasn't for that physical condition, I would suspect the (state) recommendation would be a lot higher," Nation said.
The judge called the situation "very unusual."
"I could just imagine how the children could have felt," Nation said.