Former radio host pleads guilty to child-porn charge 

Bernie Ward, formerly a popular Bay Area talk-show host and Catholic priest, admitted Thursday to knowingly sending child pornography over the Internet.

The 57-year-old, who began his career as a schoolteacher, pleaded guilty in federal court, a charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison.

Ward did not comment after the hearing. Defense attorney Doron Weinberg said his client has lost "almost everything."

As part of a plea agreement, two other child-pornography counts against Ward will be dropped. U.S. prosecutors also did not object to Ward delaying the entry of his plea until his sentencing, scheduled for Aug. 28. The delay means Ward will stay out of prison until then, allowing him to watch the last of his four children graduate from high school.

The agreement also means Ward will receive the lightest sentence set by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, according to Weinberg. Distributing child pornography could carry a maximum punishment of 20 years.

According to police documents, Ward sent at least one digital image to an Oakdale-based dominatrix containing child pornography. Several other pictures of children, ranging from age 4 to 17, were found in Ward’s account, which the FBI traced back to an account opened in 1995 with his credit card.

Thursday’s court session was originally scheduled as a pretrial hearing on Ward’s bid for the right to present a First Amendment defense, in which he would argue at trial that he had "a legitimate, journalistic purpose" for his actions. Ward has claimed that his foray into the world of child pornography was during research for a book on hypocrisy.

Ward’s use of pornography occurred "in a few weeks in 2004 and 2005" and reflected "an error in judgment rather than sexual proclivity," Weinberg said.

bbegin@examiner.com

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