Seminary student sentenced to 16 years in child sex case

Posted at 8:02 AM, Jul 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-01 14:36:00-04
SAN DIEGO -- A former seminary student from Ohio, who traveled to San Diego to try to adopt or purchase female toddlers in Tijuana so he could sexually molest them, was sentenced Friday to nearly 16 years in federal prison.
Joel Alexander Wright, 23, pleaded guilty in April to attempted enticement of a minor.
In pronouncing the 188-month sentence, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw called Wright's conduct "incredibly deeply disturbing and horrific."
The judge said Wright -- who was born severely disabled and has a litany of health problems including blindness -- accomplished many things in life but for whatever reason, over the past few years, pursued children.
"It's an extremely predatory sign," the judge said.
Wright has been diagnosed with paraphilia -- a condition characterized by unusual sexual desires -- and could be rehabilitated, Sabraw said.
Defense attorney Gregory Murphy told the judge that as a child, Wright developed an interest in being a priest.
Murphy said his client's recent conduct is contrary to what he's done his whole life.
"He's committed to getting back to the person he was," Murphy told the judge. "His secret is out."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Haden said Wright was a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who wanted to prey upon non-verbal children.

"This is an extraordinary and shocking set of facts," the prosecutor told the judge. "This is a crime that is notoriously underreported."

Wright admitted that he was the author of numerous sexually explicit emails in which he described to a cooperating witness and an undercover federal agent how he intended to sexually assault various children in Mexico, up to 4 years old.

The defendant admitted that beginning in November, he placed ads on Craigslist Tijuana purporting to seek a female tour guide. When he received a response from a cooperating witness, Wright confided that he wanted to "adopt/own a baby girl (under the age of 3) and I want to have intercourse with her after I own her but don't be telling people that ... I won't pay until I have seen the baby and I will pay the parents then ... the cheapest baby under 3 would be good."

In another email to an undercover agent, Wright wrote he had "picked up an infant pain relief med and a pretty outfit which I think should fit the 1-or 2-year-old." Wright also wrote that he had purchased an American Airlines ticket to travel from Ohio to San Diego last Jan. 29.

Wright got off a plane in San Diego and called a number provided by the undercover agent, saying he had arrived. Wright was in possession of two cell phones and a duffel bag containing baby clothes, sleep aids, bottles, toys, candy and lubricant, prosecutors said.