Child pornography cases have become all too routine, but David Axberg is different from almost anyone else before him in Western New York.
Axberg’s distinction is the pure volume of his sordid collection – more than 700 videos and more than 600,000 images, one of the largest assemblies of child porn ever recorded in Buffalo federal court.
It was so large, prosecutors say, the government stopped counting at some point. “This is an unusual case,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric M. Opanga. “We’re dealing with an individual who stockpiled child pornography.”
Axberg, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, was sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara to 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors required the North Tonawanda man to plead guilty to two counts of possession of child pornography, not just one, because of the large quantity of child porn on his computers.
“He had so many he couldn’t look at all of them,” defense lawyer John F. Humann, a member of the federal Public Defender’s Office, told Arcara.
While acknowledging the large amount of child porn in his client’s possession, Humann said the sheer size of the collection was due to Axberg’s obsessive-compulsive behavior and mental illness.
He also argued that a large number of images were part of larger files that Axberg could download with the single click of a button. “He had 600,000 images,” he said. “That just shows his disorder. He just sat there downloading. It almost makes it more pathetic.”
In his plea for leniency, Humann asked Arcara to consider Axberg’s abusive upbringing, his severe mental illness and his two attempts at suicide. “He has dreams of his grandparents eating him,” he told the judge. “He was abused physically, emotionally and sexually. He needs counseling and help.”
Arcara, who could have sentenced Axberg to more prison time, also referred to the suicide attempts and noted that a court-appointed psychiatrist diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic.
“He obviously has serious mental health issues,” the judge said.
Opanga asked Arcara to consider the victims and the need for deterrence in child porn cases, in asking for a sentence of 17 to 20 years in federal prison.
Axberg, who has been in custody for more than a year, stood before Arcara in shackles and at one point broke down in tears while expressing remorse for his crimes.
“I’ve never reached a low point in my life like I am now,” he said. “I never meant to hurt anybody.”
Axberg’s sentencing is the result of an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.