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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of North Carolina

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Repeat Sex Offender Sentenced to 40 Years for Production of Child Pornography

NEW BERN, N.C. – A Wilmington man who photographed his sexual abuse of a four-year old child was sentenced today to 480 months in prison for production of child pornography. The Court also ordered him to pay more than $285,000 in restitution.  Luke Michael Churchill, 48, pled guilty to one count of production of child pornography in connection with conduct that took place over the course of several months in 2019.

Michael Easley, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, commented: “Mr. Churchill is a serial predator, and his sentence is well-deserved. He positioned himself as a caregiver, but instead exploited and victimized a child. My office will not tolerate individuals like Mr. Churchill who prey upon the most vulnerable and innocent members of our community. We and our law enforcement partners will investigate and aggressively prosecute these predators and protect our children.”

According to court documents, Churchill previously faced unrelated federal charges when he was convicted in 2007 of possession of child pornography and sentenced to 95 months in prison. It was due to this prior conviction for a child exploitation offense that he was subject to enhanced statutory penalties in the current case. After being released from prison in 2013, Churchill began a 15-year term of supervised release that included a number of conditions, including having to register as a sex offender and submit to regular polygraphs. Churchill initially complied with the conditions of his supervised release and eventually succeeded in obtaining less restrictive conditions. Churchill was then able to manipulate his way into a position as a part-time caregiver for the victim, who was only four years old at the time. Churchill took advantage of his position and access, sexually abusing the child, and photographically recording the abuse on his phone at least seven different times over the course of three months in 2019. In June 2019, the child reported Churchill’s conduct and authorities were contacted.

Investigators immediately took steps to ensure the safety of the child and began investigating the allegations. Churchill was interviewed the same day the allegations were made and denied sexually abusing the minor victim and told investigators about how he had not failed any of his regular polygraph tests but refused to submit to another polygraph at that time. The very next day, Churchill transferred the child sexual abuse images he had created from his cellphone to a work laptop in an effort to thwart investigators. Despite Churchill’s efforts to conceal the abuse, investigators were able to obtain the work laptop and a forensic review recovered almost 150 images depicting Churchill engaged in sexual activity with the child. The forensic review was further able to establish that the images were created on seven separate dates—the same days that Churchill served as the child’s caregiver and had access to the minor.

Michael Easley, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Louise W. Flanagan. The North Carolina 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office pursued state charges against Churchill, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bryan Stephany prosecuted the case.

This case is part of the Project Safe Childhood initiative, a national program aimed at ensuring that criminals exploiting children are effectively prosecuted by making full use of all available law enforcement resources at every level. For more information about this important national initiative, go to www.projectsafechildhood.gov.

Related court documents and information can be found on the website of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina or on PACER by searching for Case No. 7:20-CR-00072-FL

Topic(s): 
Project Safe Childhood
Updated June 14, 2022