AUGUSTA — An Albion man who spent 20 days behind bars two decades ago for unlawful sexual contact with a 9-year-old girl began serving 42 months in prison Friday for possessing child pornography.

Asher C. Gifford, 56, was sentenced at the Capital Judicial Center to five years in prison, with 42 months to be served immediately, and the remaining time suspended while he spends six years on probation.

He was convicted by a jury Jan. 31 of nine counts of possessing sexually explicit images depicting children under 12.

The indictment says Gifford had those images around May 11, 2016, and June 20, 2016, at his home in Albion.

Gifford did not testify at his trial and did not address the judge at the sentencing hearing. Instead, he let his attorneys argue on his behalf.

The sentence was imposed shortly after Justice Robert Mullen denied the defense motions for acquittal and for a new trial.

Assistant District Attorney Kristin Murray-James sought consecutive sentences, asking for an initial six years bars and 12 years of probation.

She told the judge that Gifford continually has denied responsibility for his actions and had maintained he was using the images he downloaded to make portraits.

“Who makes portraits of naked toddlers being sexually assaulted?” she asked.

Murray-James said Gifford “actively downloaded these images” that depict children as young as 2 years old being sexually abused by adult males.

She cited “a look of pain” in the eyes of the children.

“These are real children being sexually assaulted for the pleasure of the viewer, in this case Asher Gifford,” she told the judge.

Mullen said he viewed the 77 images submitted by the state for the purposes of the sentencing hearing, finding that they were “uncharged criminal conduct.”

Scott Hess, one of Gifford’s two defense attorneys, said, “The state is asking for a longer sentence than any other comparable case we could find.” Hess said it was six times the length of sentence the state offered if the case had been resolved before trial.

“Certainly they are disturbing images,” he said. “That’s why these types of images are illegal.” But he added that Gifford had neither paid for them nor transmitted them further.

At trial, Hess argued that Gifford had made a mistake and unknowingly downloaded the images through a peer-to-peer sharing program while searching images of teen models.

Hess also said that a lengthy prison term for Gifford would be particularly punitive because he has severe medical problems having to do with a failing kidney transplant. Hess recommended a sentence of four years in prison, with all but an initial nine months and one day suspended, and four years of probation.

In imposing sentence, Mullen said, “The thing that troubles me the most about the defendant’s history is that he has a prior conviction of a sex offense, and I have a difficult time ignoring that. I’ve wrestled with it.” He also said he could not locate any precedent for imposing a consecutive sentence in the case and declined to do so.

Gifford was convicted in 1998 in Kennebec County of two counts of unlawful sexual contact with a 9-year-old relative. He was sentenced to five years in prison, with all but 20 days suspended, and six years of probation. The prosecutors said Gifford received the relatively short period of incarceration because he was part of an unofficial court program for first-time sexual offenders.

Gifford, who was ordered Friday to register as a lifetime sex offender under the state’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, went into custody immediately after the hearing. Two women who accompanied him to court brought in his medication so it could be sent to the prison with him. He had been free on post-conviction bail.

Conditions of probation prohibit him from contact with children under 16 and set restrictions on his use of electronic devices.

Hess also said the defense intends to appeal a number of rulings in the case.

As she was leaving the courtroom after the hearing, District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said she was pleased with the sentence imposed.

“I do see this as a significant sentence,” Maloney said. “The court agreed with the state that it’s not a victimless crime and needs to be taken seriously.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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