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Questions raised after man who pleaded guilty to 8 counts of felony child porn was not given prison time

HOUSTON – Officials with the Houston Police Officers Union have not been shy in voicing their anger over what they see as lax sentences for serious criminal offenses in Harris County. In one particular case, they are questioning why a man who pleaded guilty to possessing child pornography, was not sentenced to prison time, even though prosecutors asked for that punishment.

“I think it’s completely disgusting,” said Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officers Union. “This is completely ridiculous. It’s not up for debate. He’s in possession of these horrible images.”

The case

Mark Baldridge, 51, was charged with eight counts of possession of child pornography. Courts documents reveal that Baldridge was accused of possessing hundreds of sexually explicit images and videos of children. Baldrige pleaded guilty to having the images that depicted children, between the ages of 1 and 8 years old, engaging in sex acts.

But even though he pleaded guilty, Judge Randy Roll did not sentence Baldrige to any prison time. Instead, he got 180 days in jail and seven years probation on deferred adjudication. He also had to register as a sex offender for life. Part of these restrictions preclude Baldridge from living or going within 1,000 feet of places “where children commonly gather.”

Gamaldi takes issue with the lack of prison time.

“What is going on in Harris County? When did this turn into Gotham City?” said Gamaldi.

Judge Roll declined to discuss the case with KPRC 2. Officials with the Harris County District’s Attorney’s Office also chose not to comment on the judge’s decision regarding Baldrige’s sentence.

A pre-sentencing hearing transcript was obtained by KPRC 2.

Prosecutors asked the judge to “sentence the defendant to ten years (in prison) in order to protect future victims, to protect the community, send a message to the community that in Harris County, we don’t tolerate those that possess child porn,” according to the transcript.

Since Baldridge was charged with eight counts of a third-degree felony, he could have faced up to 80 years in prison.

His defense attorney argued Baldrige had been attending treatment every week for more than a year after he was arrested. He said Baldrige was low-risk for re-offending and complied with all the rules of his bond and had a strong support network.

Multiple times in the hearing, Judge Roll referred to the images as “very disturbing" and “I couldn’t go through all of them.” According to the transcript, the judge also said, “It was disturbing. I’m telling you that. Who has that type of ideation? I don’t know.”

When Judge Roll sentenced Baldridge to probation on deferred adjudication he seemed to express conflicting thoughts about it, according to the transcript.

Judge Roll said at several points said, “I don’t like doing this,” and “I’m not happy with this result,” but then added, “I don’t see him to be a continuing threat at this time,” and “I don’t think he is a future risk at this point.”

Roll noted Baldridge’s year in therapy, but also warned he would have zero tolerance for any infractions of his probation.

The former head of the Harris County DA’s Child Exploitation and Cybercrimes division, Eric Devlin said prison is not always a given in these cases.

“It’s not unheard of,” Devlin said in reference to deferred adjudication. “There were cases where I understood why the judge gave it. There were also cases where I absolutely objected to it.”

Devlin said that while he always pushed for prison as a prosecutor, in the end judges have discretion. KPRC 2 legal analyst Brian Wice echoed that sentiment

“The images described with the conduct charged are horrific,” Wice said. “Judge Roll obviously is the home plate umpire, who gets to call balls and strikes as he sees them.”

Still, union officials said they will continue to watch and highlight decisions coming from the bench in Harris County.

“We are tracking every criminal case in Harris County and their dispositions. The citizens of Harris County elected these judges, but how are they going to know what’s happening in these courts if no one shines a light. Harris County deserves better and our criminal justice system should be doing more to protect victims. Criminals should fear being prosecuted here, not confident that they will receive unlimited bonds and lax punishment,” wrote Christian Dorton, HPOU Board of Director’s Position 6.