Federal jury convicts Columbia County man in “horrific” child sex trafficking case
Defendant faces up to life in prison
AUGUSTA, GA: A Columbia County man faces up to life in federal prison after a jury convicted him on nine felony counts related to child sex trafficking.
In a verdict returned just after 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, a U.S. District Court jury found Michael Peyton Gunn, 36, of Evans, Ga., guilty of all nine charges following a four-day trial, said David H. Estes, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. Gunn faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison, and three of the charges in the case carry a statutory penalty of up to life in prison. There is no parole in the federal system.
“The child exploitation offenses Gunn committed are absolutely horrific, going far beyond the initial, reprehensible child pornography offenses that alerted the FBI to his activities,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Estes. “The jurors are holding Michael Gunn accountable for his monstrous crimes, and providing a path to healing for his victim.”
After the trial before U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Randal Hall, the jury found Gunn guilty of Conspiracy to Engage in Sex Trafficking of a Minor; Sex Trafficking of a Child; Coercion and Enticement of a Minor to Engage in Sexual Activity; four counts of Production of Child Pornography; Possession of Child Pornography; and Obstruction of a Sex-Trafficking Investigation. Gunn will be sentenced after a background investigation by the U.S. Probation Office.
“Michael Gunn committed unspeakable crimes against a vulnerable child and no sentence for him will wipe away the trauma he has caused the victim,” said Chris Macrae, Acting Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “However, thanks to the dedicated work from our agents who aggressively pursue these heinous criminals, Gunn will be removed from our streets where he will no longer be able to harm innocent children.”
The minor victim in the case testified in court that Gunn, through rewards, fear, threats of harm, and intimidation, manipulated the victim to participate in illegal sexual abuse as young as age 7, through sexual exploitation at age 13, as it steadily progressed from production of child pornography to participation in commercial sex trafficking.
As spelled out in evidence and testimony presented during the trial, the investigation led to Gunn in February 2020 when FBI agents were called to assist in a child pornography case in Hopkins County, Texas. Agents discovered more than 700 images – many of them explicit child pornography – depicting a specific minor victim, with digital location information identifying the area of Gunn’s residence in Evans. Agents from the Augusta FBI office later questioned Gunn and searched his home, leading to his indictment in March 2020 on multiple charges of production and possession of child pornography.
The continuing investigation led to a superseding indictment in March 2021 naming Gunn’s then wife, Amanda Gunn, a/k/a “Amanda Howard,” 34, of Augusta, on charges of Sex Trafficking Conspiracy and Obstruction of a Child Sex Trafficking Investigation, and adding multiple child sex trafficking-related charges to Michael Gunn. Amanda Gunn later pled guilty to Sex Trafficking Conspiracy and awaits sentencing. The minor victim testified during Michael Gunn’s trial that he coordinated several years of abuse of the victim in the case, deriving profit from images of the victim and from making the victim available for sexual exploitation by other men.
Also testifying in court was Jonathan Eugene Grantham, 45, of Graniteville, S.C., who awaits sentencing after pleading guilty in August to Coercion and Enticement of a Minor to Engage in Sexual Activity. Grantham admitted responding to an online advertisement trafficking the minor victim, then traveling from South Carolina to Evans to transport the victim to a motel for a sexual act in return for payment. Grantham is a former high school teacher.
The investigation into related crimes in the case continues.
Anyone with information on suspected child sexual exploitation can contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-843-5678, or https://report.cybertip.org/.
The FBI investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney and Project Safe Childhood Coordinator Tara M. Lyons prosecuted the case for the United States with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Tracy Long and Contract Legal Assistant Ana Pridemore.