Hoonah man charged in teen 'sexting' case

An 18-year-old Hoonah man is facing multiple felony charges of possession and distribution of child pornography after “sexting” with his then-17-year-old girlfriend.

Hoonah police found that Greggory C. Wright received “pornographic” text messages on his cell phone from his ex-girlfriend when she was a minor. He then forwarded some of the pictures along to another person after they had broken up, according to charging documents.

Wright pleaded not guilty to the charges through his attorney Thomas Collins before Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg on Tuesday. Wright participated in the hearing telephonically from Hoonah Correctional Facility where he is being held on $10,000 bail. A judge has since ordered his transfer to Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

Court documents show Wright was arrested on Jan. 25 and now faces two counts of distribution of child pornography for the two pictures he forwarded along to his friend, as well as eight counts of possession of child pornography, one count for each picture on his phone.

Distribution and possession of child pornography are both felony offenses that can carry a sentence of up to 99 years in prison. The presumptive sentencing range for distribution is five to 15 years for first-time offenders and two to 12 years for possession.

Sexting is defined in general parlance as sending text messages or sexually explicit images by cell phones. The word itself is not a legal term in Alaska and it is not specifically defined or prohibited in Alaska statutes, although the state Legislature created  a new statute last year to make sending an electronic explicit image or video of a minor with the intent to "annoy or humiliate another person" a misdemeanor offense. That statute became effective on July 1, 2011. Wright has not been charged with that misdemeanor.

District Attorney David Brower could not comment on the case itself, but said generally speaking that a case such as this has not come up in court before during his tenure as the DA.

“I think sexting seems to be common just as a general thing I’ve read about on the Internet, but around here it doesn’t seem to be,” he said.

Brower continued to say that many terms used in general terminology may not show up in state statutes, although the elements of sexting are referenced in statutes such as the distribution of child pornography, the unlawful exploitation of a minor and the new “sending an explicit image of a minor” offense.

The charges against Wright originated from a felony complaint filed by a Hoonah police officer. The police officer wrote up the 10 charges and forwarded them to the DA’s office, which is the routine procedure in Southeast Alaska when a crime occurs in one of the Panhandle’s villages.

The District Attorney’s Office can always amend the charges the police officer recommended.

Hoonah police had obtained search warrants for Wright’s iPhone in mid-January after he had been identified as a suspect in a burglary case. Thirty-three cartons of cigarettes and two boxes of chocolate bars were stolen from a Hoonah grocery store called Colette’s Cupboard in early January, and police had tied Wright to the scene of the crime.

Wright has consistently denied his involvement in the burglary itself, but admitted to police he tried to sell the stolen merchandise through text messages on his iPhone, according to charging documents. A police officer found the explicit texts while searching the phone for evidence of the burglary and the subsequent distribution of the stolen goods, the complaint states.

Police interviewed the girl, who is now 18, and she admitted taking the photographs and sending them to Wright in December at his request, the complaint states.

The complaint specifies that Wright told police they had dated for a period of time, but broke off the relationship because she was a minor.

In court, Wright waived his right to a preliminary hearing and his right to a speedy trial for 30 days. That essentially puts the case on hold for 30 days so attorneys can discuss how to proceed. If the case proceeds, it will likely be through a grand jury handing up an indictment.

While the sexting case is on hold, the Colette’s Cupboard burglary case is still going ahead. Wright was indicted on Friday on four felony charges of burglary, theft, criminal mischief and tampering with physical evidence for allegedly stealing about $2,000 worth of merchandise from the store, including cartons of Camel, Marlboro, Winston and Newport cigarettes and Hershey and Butterfinger candy bars. The estimated wholesale value of the lost merchandise is estimated at $2,041.20, and damage to the store’s door is expected to exceed $500, according to an affidavit filed by Hoonah police.

Wright pleaded not guilty to the charges during Tuesday’s arraignment. If convicted, he could face up to five years of jail time for each of those four felony charges and up to a $50,000 fine for each count. The presumptive range for those offenses is zero to two years for a first felony conviction. A four-day trial in that case is scheduled to begin on May 7.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

Editor’s Note: The following story has been amended to fix incorrect presumptive sentencing ranges and has been updated to include more information on ‘sexting’ statutes in Alaska.


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