Sierra Vista Man Still Awaiting Sentence In Washington DC Federal Child Porn Case

Daniel A. Nickelson Jr. [Photo courtesy Cochise County Sheriff's Office]

A Sierra Vista man arrested on child pornography charges nearly two years ago is still waiting to be sentenced because a federal judge has yet to receive the mental health and sex offender evaluations ordered by the court in September 2019.

Daniel Allen Nickelson Jr. was arrested in Sierra Vista in August 2018 as part of a FBI / Metropolitan Police taskforce based in Washington D.C. targeting the exchange of child pornography via KiK, a social networking app. He had engaged in online conversations with an undercover officer in a KiK pedophilia interest group and sent several illicit images to the officer hoping to receive others in return.

Nickelson, who turns 38 next month, was initially charged with the distribution and advertising of child pornography as well as conspiracy to distribute the materials. He signed a plea agreement in September 2019 and pleaded guilty to one count of sexual exploitation of child by advertising child pornography.

The plea deal contains a stipulation that Nickelson must serve 15 years in prison followed by supervised release. He had faced at least 30 years and up to a life sentence if convicted at trial.

Nickelson was scheduled to be sentenced last November but getting the hearing on District Judge Paul Friedman’s calendar has been rife with delays.

In October, Friedman cancelled the November sentencing after the U.S. Probation Office said it needed until late December to complete the mental health examination and sexual offender assessment which help the judge determine whether special conditions are warranted in Nickelson’s sentencing order or upon his release from prison.

Then in January, after the evaluations were already overdue, Friedman received a letter from a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) warden who noted Nickelson had been moved to a facility in California and that the court-ordered evaluations were expected to be filed by March 9.

The letter does not address why Nickelson was transferred to California when Friedman ordered that he remain on the East Coast for the evaluations.

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Friedman granted the extension until March 9, but days after that deadline passed a forensic psychologist with the BOP requested another 30-day extension to “gather data, document the findings of the completed psychological evaluation, and finalize the written report.” The report would be submitted by April 7, the doctor promised the judge.

On June 11, Nickelson’s attorney William Welch and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were informed that the evaluator expected to have the report “to the court” by June 30.

But the parties learned on June 29 that the evaluator “was just getting started on the evaluation due to COVID-19 backup and would likely need 60 days to complete the report,” according to a status report the attorneys submitted last week to Friedman.

The judge must now decide whether to move ahead with sentencing without the evaluations or grant yet another extension which will likely push Nickelson’s sentencing date past the one-year anniversary of his guilty plea.

According to court records, Nickelson not only distributed images of child pornography via a pedophilia group on KiK but he also provided a platform for other users to share illicit files the group. One other user was Lucas Cane, an Oklahoma schoolteacher who shared more than 6,500 files to the group.

During a post-arrest statement, Nickelson told investigators he was simply collecting the names of KiK users and other evidence to provide it to the FBI.

Nickelson had initially requested pretrial release on the condition he adhere to home confinement with no internet access. However, a federal judge in Washington D.C. ruled the government had proffered sufficient evidence to deny pretrial release.

Among that evidence was Nickelson’s cell phone on which investigators found sexually explicit images of an infant and toddler that had been viewed the morning of Nickelson’s arrest while at work.

All of the time Nickelson spends in detention prior to sentencing will be credited toward his prison term. He must also register as a sex offender once released from prison.