Surry County child porn case ends with Vawter conviction


By Terri Flagg - [email protected]



Surry County Courthouse


Terri Flagg | The News

DOBSON — A Pilot Mountain man accused of viewing child pornography was convicted of associated felony violations Wednesday in Superior Court.

Through a negotiated agreement, Michael Joseph Vawter, 37, of Dan Bryant Road, pleaded guilty to seven counts of third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor charges which were amended from seven counts of second-degree sexual exploitation.

According to the state’s summary of the evidence, a joint investigation between the State Bureau of Investigation and the Surry County Sheriff’s Office led to a search that revealed evidence of illegal activity on the defendant’s computer.

The offenses occurred on dates from Oct. 6 to Oct. 10, 2014.

Vawter had confessed immediately to the crime after the search and again during subsequent interviews, according to Assistant District Attorney Mike Beal, speaking on behalf of the state in court Wednesday.

The defendant also had submitted to a polygraph test that suggested he was being truthful when answering that he had never physically harmed a child.

The officers found no evidence that child pornography had been downloaded to Vawter’s computer, Beal said. However, the defendant had admitted to erasing and reformatting his hard drives.

The defendant had also admitted he had used his work computer to view child pornography.

Kernersville defense attorney Harvey Barbee said the illegal activity was “something very out of character” for his client.

Barbee submitted to Presiding Judge Eric Morgan an evaluation by a Winston-Salem physician finding Vawter’s risk and recidivism level to be low, and that he had no substance abuse or cognitive issues.

“It’s not going to happen again,” Barbee said. “He’s very remorseful.”

Barbee asked the judge to find a mitigating factor for sentencing that his client accepted responsibility for his actions at an early stage in the investigation.

“He’s not trying to pull any punches or hide anything,” the attorney said.

Second plea hearing

During the May term of Superior Court, Vawter had pleaded guilty to the same crimes.

Judge A. Moses Massey, presiding at the time, rejected the agreement because the deal did not include any active time.

The agreement before the court Tuesday included a split sentence, with Vawter required to serve 30 days in jail in addition to a probationary sentence.

Judge Morgan took some time to review the medical evaluation and to determine sex offender registration requirements before accepting the plea.

He sentenced Vawter, a prior record level one (no felony convictions), in the presumptive range, giving him a suspended sentence of six to 17 months with 30 months of supervised probation, allowing the defendant to serve the 30 days in jail at the discretion of his probation officer.

Vawter was ordered to register as a sex offender for 30 years but not required to participate in satellite-based monitoring.

As an additional condition of probation, he was ordered to submit at reasonable times to warrantless searches of his person, residence, vehicle or computer for child pornography, and to comply with any recommended follow-up treatment.

Surry County Courthouse
http://mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/web1_160324_Courthouse-4-1-3.jpgSurry County CourthouseTerri Flagg | The News

By Terri Flagg

[email protected]

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.

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