While pleading his innocence, Quincy man sentenced to eight years in prison for child pornography

James Phillips

James Phillips | Photo courtesy of Adams County Jail

QUINCY — A Quincy man facing child pornography charges was sentenced to eight years in the Illinois Department of Corrections on Monday morning.

James E. Phillips, 50, of Quincy appeared in Adams County Circuit Court with Public Defender John Citro before Judge Tad Brenner.

Phillips agreed to plead guilty to two counts of pornography with children under the age of 13 and a cap of eight years in prison as part of a negotiated plea. He was sentenced to four years on each count of child pornography, a Class 2 felony for which he was eligible to receive between three and seen years in prison. The counts must be served consecutively, and Phillips is eligible to serve 50 percent of his sentence.

One count of child pornography was dismissed as part of the negotiations.

When a pre-sentence investigation was created for Phillips, he said he didn’t believe he was guilty of the crimes he was charged with.

“Under the law, innocent people are allowed to plead guilty,” Citro said. “Innocent people are allowed to receive the benefit of a plea negotiation. I’d ask that that not be held against him.

“Let’s be clear. James maintains his innocence. but he has pled guilty. The court is going to sentence him as if he were guilty, and I will make my argument as if he were guilty.”

Citro argued that Phillips was not charged with producing pornographic material or coercing a minor into making pornographic videos. Rather, he was charged for downloading videos off the internet.

“Compare that to a drug offense,” Citro said. “The court handles different drug offenses differently. For instance, a person charged with possession generally will receive a lighter sentence than someone charged with dealing. In this case, in the realm of child pornography, this is a possession case. In the spectrum of discharge, this type of event falls on the lessor.”

Citro said his client had never been convicted of a felony, and he was a veteran. Both factors, he said, could have made Phillips a good candidate for probation. However, he did not ask for probation, instead asking for a three-year sentence on each count.

Assistant State’s Attorney Laura Keck said Brenner should consider two incidents in delivering his sentence. One was Phillips’ conviction of sexual battery, a misdemeanor, in Virginia in 1994. 

“The defendant told the evaluator that it involved, in his words, a misunderstanding,” Keck said. “He was in the military and believed an underage girl was interested in him. He went to her bedroom later that night, touched her and found out, summarizing his words, she was not interested. He had misread what she was trying to tell him. Your Honor, for lack of a better word, today we call that sexual assault.”

Keck also noted three teenage girls came forward in the early 2000s to tell law enforcement officials Phillips had touched them under their clothes. Two of them were under the age of 13. 

“To be completely candid and fair to Mr. Phillips, he was never charged,” Keck said. “He was never convicted of those (alleged offenses), but I think it’s important to note that those girls recorded that back in the early 2000s. As part of this case, officers later interviewed those now women, and they continue to maintain that the defendant committed these offenses, even though they have not had contact with him for years.”

Keck said Phillips “completely minimizes” his role in the charges he was facing.”

“He alternates between just simply saying, ‘I didn’t do it’ to just saying his computers were hacked,” Keck said. “He’s saying random people came into his house and used his computer, (then) saying they were guests who used his computer. In whatever way, he just says, ‘I did not do this, and I just pled guilty because I thought I would get less time than if I took this to trial.’”

She asked for Phillips to be sentenced to four years on each charge.

Asked if he wanted to give a statement of allocution, Phillips replied, “No, thank you, your honor.”

Brenner said that Phillips had agreed to “a plea of convenience” and didn’t believe any sexual offender treatment would be effective.

“Three years, which the defense is arguing for, is the absolute minimum,” Brenner said. “This is not an absolute minimum case, given the fact that probation is not a realistic alternative. The state’s suggestion and the negotiation of four years for each one of these offenses appears to be appropriate.”

Phillips was given credit for 132 days served in the Adams County Jail.

Det. James Brown of the Quincy Police Department said he started the case in October 2023 when Google flagged Phillips’ account for containing child pornography. Brown said he went to Phillips’ home in the 400 block of Spruce on Feb. 7 to interview him, and Phillips refused. He was arrested later that day.

Because of various factors involving the case and the condition of Phillips’ residence, the Department of Child and Family Services was contacted regarding the protection of the children. Brown said multiple electronic devices, including his cellphone and computer, were taken from the residence. Multiple search warrants were executed on social media accounts as well.

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