Timothy O’Connell, the former associate director of campus ministry at Villanova University who pleaded guilty in June to possessing child pornography, was sentenced Thursday to 78 months in federal prison followed by 10 years of supervised release.
O’Connell, 52, of Drexel Hill, who was suspended by the Catholic university after his July 2018 arrest, could not control his emotions while addressing U.S. District Judge Gerald J. Pappert before learning his fate.
“I stand before you today filled with remorse and deep shame,” said O’Connell, clad in an olive-green prison jumpsuit. “Put simply, I’m disgusted by my behavior."
He said his seeking and receiving child pornography over the internet “were cruel and criminal” and added, “I deserve to be right where I am.”
Pappert noted that O’Connell was a “unique” defendant, given his once-trusted position in the community. Nevertheless, he called O’Connell a “danger to society" who must be kept away from children.
“Obviously these cases are extremely difficult,” the judge said. “The subject matter is heartbreaking. It’s hard to understand how things get to this point.”
He brushed aside defense attorney Heather Mattes’ request for a sentence of five years behind bars, saying the “horrible crime” called for a harsher sentence. Pappert also required O’Connell to attend mental health and sex offender programs in prison, pay $10,100 in fines, and register as a sex offender upon release.
O’Connell’s criminal behavior was uncovered during a federal investigation of a now-convicted child pornographer who used the instant messaging app Kik to transmit to others sexually explicit images of children, including a toddler.
At the time of his arrest, O’Connell admitted using the Kik app to communicate with and receive child porn images from Justyn Perez-Colon, who was convicted of sharing sexually explicit images of an 18-month-old girl.
An analysis of Perez-Colon’s iPhone led investigators to O’Connell through a Gmail account that he accessed both at home and at his Villanova office, the complaint said.
Mattes said O’Connell, who worked in Hispanic ministry outreach for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia before joining Villanova, had accepted responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty and was a prime candidate for rehabilitation. In jail, she said, he volunteered to teach other inmates English, worked as a suicide prevention counselor, and was a member of a Bible study class.
She said O’Connell was sexually abused by his adoptive father, and as an adult developed an addiction to adult pornography.
“He fully accepts responsibility for his conduct,” said Mattes, who noted that O’Connell’s wife divorced him after his arrest. She said he was hoping to repair his relationship with his two minor sons.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Priya DeSouza decried O’Connell’s conduct and stressed that he was not a passive collector of child porn, but someone who actively sought out like-minded people to share with.
U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain has called O’Connell’s actions deeply troubling. “The allegations in this case are particularly disturbing due to the defendant’s history as a spiritual leader in a position of community trust at Villanova," he said in announcing O’Connell’s guilty plea. “Child exploitation is a pervasive problem that demands a sustained, aggressive response.”