It was hard to watch Chris Ortloff, a man of high public achievement, standing in a courtroom in black and white prison stripes and hearing discussion of his taste for pre-teen girls and sex gadgets. It was impossible to conceive he could leave that courtroom with a shred of dignity. But he did.
"The United States of America vs. George C. Ortloff," the clerk announced before Circuit Court Judge Thomas McAvoy heard arguments on whether the former TV news anchor and assemblyman should be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison or only 10 for using the Internet to try to arrange sex with two young girls, who turned out to be only the bait in a police sting.
In the end, Judge McAvoy split the difference, giving the fallen luminary 12½.
Ortloff saved his finest public oratory for the time he needed it most. In his anchor's voice and assemblyman's rhetoric, he never denied his depraved lust but tried to explain it: "I didn't imagine anyone could go from where I was 20 years ago to where I was two years ago (when he discovered Internet child pornography)," he said, a journey that took him from living "in the real world, where you see real sunsets and listen to real birds to a virtual world of the Internet," where inhibitions evaporate.
He recalled getting ready to embark on a trip to Buffalo, first turning on his computer to check e-mails but straying along the way to his pornography. "Two hours later, I was still there."
He insisted he never had sexual contact with anyone underage, confirmed in a polygraph test, though that seems to be only for want of an opportunity. As for his fatal would-be tryst with the two girls in his Colonie motel room, "The facts are undeniable. I was on those chats and went to the meeting. I brought those things (gadgets), as the undercover (police woman) insisted. ... (But) the person who committed those offenses is not the person who stands before you today."
In his defense, he said he is now healed — "I was blind, but now I see" — an assertion McAvoy in the end discounted.
"I am certainly guilty," Ortloff said. "If I have to spend the rest of my life in prison, I could not argue I didn't deserve it. I have already received a large measure of mercy because my wife and children still love me."
"I'm sorry for what I did and for all the people I let down, thousands of people who looked up to me. But my life is not over."
His lawyer, Andrew Safranco, had earlier argued that similar state charges against other defendants — Ortloff's was a federal case because of the Internet involvement — had netted sentences of six months and three years, respectively.
McAvoy gave three reasons for not imposing the minimum sentence:
Despite Ortloff's claim of redemption and cleansing of demons, "You have a strong need to be treated, in a substantial period of rehabilitation."
He felt compelled to protect potential victims from him until there is a certainty he presents no danger.
And a message must be sent to other potential predators.
Ortloff will be in prison for 150 months, less the 16 he has already spent in jail. Under federal law, that 150 cannot be shortened.
Many people have decried the sentence as too lenient. We disagree. Ortloff will be in prison until he's 73 years old. That represents the loss of a very significant portion of what remains of his life and provides plenty of time to really work on those demons. The job of the court is to decide what is right in each situation — not to exact revenge for the general public's satisfaction.