Nesset reaches settlement with child pornography victims

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Kirk Nesset, a former professor of English and creative writing at Allegheny College who pleaded guilty to charges related to child pornography, has reached settlements with eight victims who filed a civil lawsuit against him in federal court. Terms of the settlements are confidential.

Nesset, 61, is currently serving a 76-month federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to possession, receipt and distribution of child pornography in April 2015. Eight victims who appeared in the material— under the pseudonyms of Fiona, Erin, Vicky, Sklyar, Savannah, Sally, Sierra and Sarah — sued Nesset in December 2016 for damages related to his crimes.

In the civil complaint, filed Dec. 19, 2016, the victims claim Nesset’s consumption of pornography depicting them as young as five years old caused “extreme and permanent emotional distress with physical manifestations, interference with (their) normal development and educational progress, lifelong loss of income earning capacity, loss of past and future wages, past and future expenses for medical and psychological treatment, loss of enjoyment of life, and other losses to be described and proven at trial of this matter.”

As part of his criminal sentence, Nesset must pay $78,900 in restitution to his victims. In January 2018, the United States government filed a request to  garnish Nesset’s retirement accounts to help pay the $78,191.37 he still owed at the time. Vicky and Sarah, who also sued Nesset, are due to receive $32,500 and $26,500 in restitution, respectively.

Although the settlements themselves are confidential, other court filings hint at the financial values. James R. Marsh, an attorney who worked on the case, wrote in an Oct. 17 declaration that the settlement for Fiona is “similar to the amounts” other plaintiffs have received in child pornography cases Marsh has litigated.

At the same time, however, Marsh writes that the settlement is also made with respect to Nesset’s “limited financial resources,” but also that he and Fiona rarely pursue cases in which the defendants are unable to pay.

Settlements with the majority of victims were reached during mediation in April 2018, court filings show. A separate settlement for the victim Fiona was submitted to the court for approval on Wednesday, Oct. 17.

The 11-page settlement agreement with Fiona is entirely redacted in public court records. Court permission for Fiona’s settlement is required as she is still a minor, court filings show.

If a jury found in favor of the plaintiffs, Nesset would have owed no less than $150,000 to each victim in statutory damages, in addition to actual, compensatory and punitive damages, as well as attorneys’ fees and fees for expert witnesses.

Nesset’s collection of child pornography consisted of over 550,000 image and movie files and was stored on an external hard drive, according to an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint filed in federal court in October 2014.

“This case in unbelievable,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian Trabold said during Nesset’s Feb. 8, 2016, sentencing. “It is the most child pornography that I have seen in 15 years as a federal prosecutor.”

Documents filed along with the proposed settlement paint a disturbing image of the damage done to victims’ lives as a result of child pornography. According to court records, the continued distribution of the images is expected to impact the victims throughout their lives, especially during milestones such as marriage and raising children.

Results from the Trauma Symptom Checklist for Young Children indicate Fiona displays clear signs of anxiety, anger, depression and post-traumatic stress from the incidents. Mental health professionals in the case fear Fiona may exhibit negative behaviors such as substance abuse in the future. Court documents state concerns about Fiona displaying propensities akin to those of her sister, Erin, who turned to such behaviors as illicit substance use and clear aggression to cope with the suicidal thoughts and feelings of trauma stemming from such events.

Before being arrested, Nesset had taught at Allegheny for 20 years. He resigned Oct. 2, 2014, one day after his arrest. After his release from federal prison, Nesset will be under supervised release for 10 years and is required to remain on the sex offender registry.