Stiff Sentence For Probation Violation After Facebook Inspires Prosecutor

SNOW HILL — An Ocean Pines man, sentenced in 2016 to five years in jail for possession of child pornography and other charges, was sent back to prison last week when it was learned an alleged child stalking case in Wicomico County last year triggered a violation of probation in Worcester.

In June 2016, Sebastian Nicholson, now 35, was found guilty in Worcester County Circuit Court on two counts of promoting and distributing child pornography and two counts of possession of child pornography. He was sentenced that September to five years in prison with all active incarceration suspended except for the time he served awaiting trial.

Last August, however, Nicholson, who was on supervised probation, was arrested at the Wal-Mart in Fruitland after allegedly stalking and using his cell phone to videotape a 5-year-old girl who was in the store with her mother. The victim’s mother was able to alert store security, who, in turn, alerted Fruitland Police.

When Fruitland Police arrived on the scene, Nicholson had allegedly locked himself in the store’s bathroom and was manipulating his cell phone, presumably in a frantic attempt to delete any damaging images or other files taken of the young victim.

Fruitland Police ultimately arrested and charged him with two counts of stalking, harassing a minor, obstructing and hindering and providing a false identity to police, the latter presumably because he knew an arrest would trigger a violation of probation for his conviction in Worcester County.

On April 9, Nicholson appeared in Wicomico County to face the charges stemming from the August 2017 incident at the Wal-Mart in Fruitland. He ultimately pleaded guilty to providing a false identity to police officers and was sentenced to 226 days. Because of the plea agreement, the other charges against Nicholson including the stalking and harassment of a five-year-old girl in a public store were not prosecuted.

However, Nicholson’s arrest and subsequent conviction in the Wicomico County case triggered a violation of probation in the Worcester County child pornography case. Back in court for a violation of probation hearing in Worcester County last Friday, Nicholson was sent back to prison for the time remaining on his suspended sentence, or roughly three years and eight months.

Interim Worcester County State’s Attorney William McDermott sought the entire sentence for Nicholson for his violation of probation after reviewing the facts of the Wicomico County case. During the violation of probation hearing last week, McDermott pointed to what he believed was a continuing pattern of illicit behavior.

“I note that because the underlying conviction for false statement doesn’t quite convey the escalation of which I believe Mr. Nicholson is now on,” he said. “Mr. Nicholson started by possessing child pornography and it seems that he has started to move toward producing his own.”

In a somewhat unconventional move, McDermott called on the young victim’s mother to testify at the violation of probation hearing last week, an opportunity she was not afforded at Nicholson’s trial for the alleged Wal-Mart incident that was pleaded out. The victim’s mother testified since the Wal-Mart incident she has watched her daughter more closely in stores and other public places, and although her daughter was right by her side when Nicholson was allegedly taping the child with his cell phone, she wondered what might have happened if the child had been allowed to wander in the store.

For his part, Nicholson’s attorney argued his client had been let down by the system in that he had not been given the opportunity to seek help for his mental illness. However, Judge Richard Bloxom wasn’t buying it.

“Given your conviction for possession of child pornography and given the fact that I accept what the mother of this child says is what happened, I accept it as true,” Bloxom said during the hearing. “You were and have demonstrated an unnatural, troubling and even frightening fascination with very young children.”

Bloxom sentenced Nicholson to the three years and eight months of unserved back-up time for the Worcester conviction.

It was social media, or in this case, Facebook, that led the Worcester County State’s Attorney’s Office to seek the full amount of back-up time for Nicholson. When the victim’s mother was not afforded an opportunity to speak at Nicholson’s Wicomico County trial and he ultimately pleaded guilty to the lesser false identity charge, she took to Facebook to voice her displeasure with the perceived injustice. Those Facebook posts, which ultimately reached McDermott, led him to delve deeper into the facts of the case.

“I was honestly inspired by the mother,” McDermott said this week. “I’m not always certain about the usefulness of Facebook and I don’t make any assumptions, but in this particular case, it was really Facebook that gave this victim a voice, a voice she didn’t necessarily have in court. But for her Facebook posts which ultimately reached me, I might not have known the depth of the facts in this case heading into a violation of probation hearing.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.