Sentencing

John Bash, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, speaks about the sentencing of a Killeen couple charged with producing child pornography showing them sexually abusing 25 children.

A Killeen couple who sexually assaulted at least 25 children and produced child pornography depicting the abuse were sentenced to maximum prison terms Wednesday in a case described by the area’s top federal prosecutor as “one of the most horrific cases of child abuse in Texas history.”

“We just came out of one of the most emotional and powerful things that I have ever seen in court,” U.S. Attorney John Bash said Wednesday. “These defendants are truly serial child abusers and probably two of the worst criminals in the history of Texas.”

Both U.S. District Judge Alan Albright and Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Gloff, a veteran prosecutor, became emotional Wednesday during a sentencing hearing for Christopher Almaguer, 27, his wife, Sarah Rashelle Almaguer, 27, and Christopher Almaguer’s brother, Paul Perez Jr., 25.

Albright sentenced the Almaguers to 60 years in prison, the maximum allowed by law, choking back his emotion while telling them he doubts the sentences are “truly sufficient” for their crimes.

“I truly have no way of understanding how a person can do what you did to those children,” Albright told the couple. “It truly is beyond comprehension. … Those children you injured will never recover.”

In addition to the prison terms, the judge also ordered the three each to pay $10,000 to the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Fund and be placed on supervised release for the rest of their lives after their release from prison.

There is no parole in the federal system, and officials estimated the Almaguers could spend about 51 years in prison before their release.

Albright sentenced Perez to 20 years in prison for receiving the images of child pornography from his brother and sister-in-law, the maximum sentence for his charges.

In a press conference after the hearing, Bash, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, said the “horrificness” of the Almaguers’ crimes tops all he has seen since he took office in December 2017.

“To me, this is the most significant case we’ve prosecuted since I became U.S. Attorney,” Bash said in a press release. “The Almaguers were serial child abusers. They abused 25 children that we know about — children from the neighborhood, children from church, children they babysat, children who just came over to play with their five children.

“The youngest victim was an infant, and the nature of the abuse was unimaginable. They also made videos of the children’s torture and shared them. These are two of the most wicked criminals in Texas history.”

In statements to the judge before sentencing, both Almaguers apologized for their actions. Both said they since have turned their lives over to God and pledged to change and become better parents for their five children.

Sarah Almaguer told Albright that God talked to her, saved her, changed her and set her free from her evil ways.

Robert Stem Jr., Christoper Almaguer’s attorney, told Albright there is no excuse for his actions, but he wanted the judge to consider as a possible mitigating factor that Almaguer suffered longtime sexual abuse at the hands of a relative while growing up in San Antonio.

While trying to avoid the graphic details of the case, which Bash described as “unbearable,” he said Christopher Almaguer raped an infant girl and his wife penetrated an infant girl with a Sharpie pen.

Bash clerked for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia when the high court considered a case from Louisiana and ruled that child rapists are not eligible for the death penalty.

“I suspect that case would not have come out the same way if these set of facts were before the court instead of the facts in that other case,” Bash said.

Perez pleaded guilty to receiving images of the abuse, including one video in which he requested his brother to sexually abuse a 5-year-old girl while telling her to say, “Hi, Paul.”

Flanking Bash during the press conference at the Waco federal courthouse were members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Secret Service, the Texas Attorney General’s Office child exploitation unit and the Killeen and Temple police departments, who all assisted in the investigation.

Bash said the Almaguers were flagged after they sent images of child pornography to Perez and others on Facebook Messenger. Facebook contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber Tipline, which alerted authorities in Central Texas.

Of the 25 victims in the case, ranging in age from 8 months to 14 years old, 13 have been identified. Bash said authorities are still trying to find the identifies of the other children, and he encourages anyone who suspects child abuse or parents who think their child may have been victimized by the Almaguers to call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children hotline at 800-843-5678.

Staff writer at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering courts and criminal justice. Follow me on Twitter @TSpoonFeed.

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