Someone in Australia browsing an Internet chat site in November spotted a disturbing image: a live video showing a man molesting a child who was sitting in his lap.
The unidentified Web user quickly notified the chat site, which called the Australian Federal Police, who, using computer addresses, traced related images on the site to a man halfway around the world on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
The international investigation culminated yesterday in a federal courtroom in Baltimore where Roderick Gene Parks, 42, was sentenced to 30 years in prison without possibility of parole. Court documents indicate that he has AIDS.
Parks sat at a table, handcuffed, looking sullen and crying as the boy, 12, watched the proceedings. As Parks was being escorted out of the courtroom, the boy's parents pointed to the man. "Thirty years," the father told the boy. "You'll be 42 when he gets out."
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, whose office has targeted hundreds of child molesters, used the Parks case to underscore the global nature of Internet sex crimes.
"This case is a remarkable example of how international cooperation among law enforcement agencies can stop the production of child pornography throughout the world," he said.
Rosenstein stood next to Erica Merrin, an Australian Federal Police agent who is the liaison officer assigned to Washington.
"The images were live and streaming," Merrin said of the video posted on anywebcam. com, noting that the company properly notified authorities when it learned of the images.
Anywebcam.com is registered in Australia, Cyprus and Las Vegas, according to its Internet site, and has 3,641,740 members. Its owners describe the company as "an active, online community Web site where real people, using real webcameras, interact in real time with live video. ... It is a safe, friendly, fun environment where people can meet to share interests and ideas."
Prosecutors in Maryland say the boy was molested over a three-month period last year by Parks, who knew the mother. Authorities said he used the screen name embraceu410 on the Internet.
The case first came to the attention of Australian police Nov. 8, when an anywebcam.com member alerted the Web site.
The investigation was turned over to the Australian police's Online Child Sex Exploitation Team. One of the still photos taken from Parks' chat, prosecutors said in court documents, included a photo dated Nov. 2 and taken at 1:54 p.m. of a man who said he lived in Berlin, Md.
Each of the four images that were saved, prosecutors said, showed the same man and the same child. In the background were a small table and chairs near a kitchenette. To the right was a bed with a blue comforter, court documents say.
Authorities in Maryland traced the Internet provider address - a unique identifier attached to personal computers - to the Verizon Internet service provider. Prosecutors said Verizon reported that the provider address belonged to Parks, and authorities said the photo on his Maryland driver's license matched the picture in the online images seen in Australia.
Police said they arrested Parks on Nov. 27 after he was seen by undercover agents who were staking out the Berlin apartment. He pleaded guilty to the federal pornography charge June 11.
Authorities in Worcester County say they are investigating the case. The federal charges concern the posting of the images and do not deal with allegations of sexual abuse.
Parks' attorney, Paul D. Hazlehurst, said in court yesterday that his client pleaded guilty to avoid causing additional anguish for the child and his family. Fighting tears and unable to compose himself, Parks instructed his lawyer to read a statement that he had written.
"I'm truly sorry for what happened," Hazlehurst read. "I never wished to hurt [this child]. Please forgive me. ... Again, I am truly sorry."
Hazlehurst asked that his client be sentenced to a little more than 17 years in prison, noting his poor health.
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake sided with Assistant U.S. Attorney Tonya Kelly Kowitz, who had asked for the 30-year sentence. Blake noted Parks' knowledge that because he had a life-threatening disease, he was endangering his victim.
"This is obviously an extremely tragic case," Blake said. "The child's pictures and words in this spoke more powerfully than anything I can say. Mr. Parks unfortunately abused the trust of a vulnerable child for his own profit."
The boy attended the hearing with his parents, clutching his mother's hand throughout. The family declined to comment.
Officials said in court that the boy has tested negative for the human immunodeficiency virus three times and will be tested again.