News and Press Releases


WEDNESDAY - December 16, 2009



RALEIGH - United States District Judge James C. Dever, III, yesterday sentenced DENNIS STEPHEN JOHNSTON, 38, of Burgaw, North Carolina, a man the judge referred to as “the personification of evil,” and whose conduct he described as “inhumane” to two consecutive 30-year prison terms for photographing and videotaping his repeated sexual abuse of two children over a 6-year period. This was the maximum punishment permitted by law. JOHNSTON pled guilty on September 8, 2009 to two counts of producing child pornography, each count punishable by no less than 15 and no more than 30 years’ imprisonment.

JOHNSTON was reported to law enforcement in August of 2008, and a subsequent investigation revealed that JOHNSTON maintained a substantial collection of child pornography, much of which he had created himself and depicted his sexual abuse of children. JOHNSTON’S victims addressed the Court at sentencing, expressing the pain and anguish that JOHNSTON had caused them, and imploring the court to apply just punishment.

United States Attorney George E.B. Holding welcomed the sentence. “I am grateful to Judge Dever for delivering the only just sentence available for this case, and hope that yesterday’s proceedings will create a foundation for the victims to begin their recovery from the nightmare this defendant created for them.” Holding also noted that the cases involved the sexual abuse not only of JOHNSTON’S direct victims, but of the other children whose abuse was included in his collection. “This case is a cruel illustration of the everyday danger posed to children in our district from the rising tide of child pornographic materials. This perverse content not only re-abuses the children depicted in it, but also fuels the desires of those who seek to abuse children themselves. Our office remains committed to providing any resource necessary to combat these crimes, and as this case illustrates, we will work with every level of law enforcement to ensure that these matters are brought to a just conclusion.”

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by United States Attorneys’ Offices and the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS), Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit

Investigation of the case was conducted by the Pender County Sheriff’s Office, with the support of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Wilmington Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Jay Exum served as prosecutor for the United States, with the support and cooperation of the Pender County District Attorney’s Office.

News releases are available on the U. S. Attorney’s web page at within 48 hours of release.

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