By Alison Langley, Niagara Falls Review – December 9, 2008
The bedroom was every boy’s dream.
Posters of the Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man decorated the walls and video games and comic books littered the floor.
The colourful room in a north-end townhouse complex, however, didn’t belong to a boy.
Rather, it was the room of a 27-year-old man who used the Internet and a webcam to befriend and then sexually assault young boys.
When police searched Robert Sowell’s room, detectives also found a number of photographs of boys pinned to the wall, said Det. Dave Weeks, of the Niagara Regional Police.
Also, stored on the Sowell’s computer was a collection of about 4,000 pictures of child pornography and 12,600 images of nude or semi-nude children that police said did not meet the definition of child pornography under the Criminal Code.
There were also 73 child pornography videos, some showing boys as young as two being sexually abused by adult males.
Sowell, now 28, appeared in an Ontario Court of Justice in St. Catharines on Monday and was sentenced to seven years and one month behind bars for molesting three boys, who were between the ages of eight and 11 at the time of the crimes.
Court was told Sowell suffers from a pedo-hebephilia, meaning his sexual preference is prepubescent and pubescent boys.
There is no cure and no treatment for the disorder.
“This disorder is lifelong and there is no known treatment proven to change sexual preference,” said Judge Al Lacavera.
Medical experts have said Sowell, who worked at a day-care centre at the time of his arrest, is of “medium to high risk” to reoffend.
Assistant Crown attorney Pat Vaddachino asked the judge impose a 10-year jail term considering the magnitude of Sowell’s crimes.
“These families trusted him to take care of their boys,” she said. “He builds up trust and then violates them.”
Sowell was arrested by Niagara Regional Police in February 2007 after three Niagara Falls teenagers told police they saw inappropriate sexual comments from Sowell on a boy’s MSN Instant Messenger.
When questioned by police, Sowell admitted he had abused two other boys, one of whom he used to babysit.
“I thought I had been blessed,” the mother of one victim said upon her first meeting with Sowell.
The single mother was new to Niagara Falls in 2007 and had been looking for a babysitter when several neighbours recommended Sowell.
“He was like a big brother to children he cared for,” she wrote in a statement submitted in court. “Now, a part of me has died inside. If anyone ever mentions that word (babysitter) my skin crawls.”
In another submitted statement, one victim, now 12, said: “I would feel a lot better if there were no bad people in the world.”
Another wrote: “I have lost my sense of security. I can’t trust any one.”
Sowell also submitted a letter, apologizing to the victims and their families. “I am sorry for the pain I have caused. I have made terrible, some terrible, mistakes,” he wrote.
Several videos from Sowell’s collection were played in court, including a video that included one of his victims. Police say the video was not posted on the Internet.
“The Internet provides child sexual predators with a new frightening window into the secure home environment of children,” Vaddachino said.
Sowell pleaded guilty in June to six charges, including Internet luring of a child, possession of child pornography, manufacturing child pornography and three counts of sexual interference, which involves sexually touching a child younger than the age of 14.
Sentencing was adjourned until December, so that a psychiatric evaluation could be completed.
Defence lawyer Kim Edwards said a four-year term would be a more appropriate sentence as her client is a first-time offender and had pleaded guilty, sparing the young victims from having to testify in court.
“He has empathy and understanding for what happened to the victims,” she said. “He is profoundly ashamed.”
Sowell, who partially completed the early childhood education program at Niagara College, will be listed on the Ontario Sex Offender Registry for the next 20 years.
He was also banned for life from attending public parks and swimming areas, day-care centres, school grounds, playgrounds and community centres