Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Cloudy 40° Cloudy
News >  Idaho

Writer guilty of child porn possession

At his sentencing hearing in federal court Monday, outdoors writer Dennis Nicholls borrowed a metaphor from his public life to describe his experience in court.

“I feel like a rainbow trout that’s been pulled out of a stream and filleted and laid out for everyone to see,” he told U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Larry Boyle.

Nicholls, who lives in Troy, Mont., pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. His sentencing involved testimony from his Sandpoint therapist, pleas for leniency from his supporters and a stern reminder from assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan of why his crime must be punished.

“It’s to protect children,” she said. “If the demand were not there, the supply would not be there either.”

About three dozen of Nicholls’ friends from North Idaho and Montana appeared at the hearing on his behalf. Many were tearful when Boyle sentenced Nicholls to 27 months in federal prison followed by three years supervised probation.

Nicholls downloaded thousands of pornographic images onto his personal computer. Factored into the judge’s sentencing decision was a 19-year-old conviction in Lincoln County, Mont., for inappropriate contact that Nicholls had with a minor. Whelan said Nicholls again had inappropriate relations with a minor nine years later in Florida.

Nicholls’ private fascination with images of naked boys and minors having sex was discovered after he took his computer to a Sandpoint computer store on March 9, 2004, for service. A computer technician there found the images, and the store’s owner contacted the FBI.

An FBI computer analyst discovered 16,161 still pornographic images, of which 1,595 appeared to include minors, according to court documents. The FBI was able to identify known victims of child pornography in 62 of the images. Another 77 video files of minors engaged in sex acts were recovered from Nicholls’ computer.

Most of Nicholls’ friends and acquaintances know him as the writer of two hiking guide books, “Trails of the Wild Selkirks” and “Trails of the Wild Cabinets,” and as the former publisher of The River Journal, a twice-monthly newspaper that covers the communities along the Clark Fork River from Sandpoint to Thompson Falls, Mont.

Patricia Gannon, who purchased the newspaper from Nicholls four years ago, said that since she learned of the charges, she has talked with her own children and others who have had contact with Nicholls. No one indicated “any hint of inappropriate behavior” by him.

Doug Ferrell, a homebuilder from Trout Creek, Mont., told the judge that his son went on numerous hiking and backpacking trips with Nicholls without incident. “I do not see Dennis as a threat to our community,” he said.

As he sentenced Nicholls to prison, Boyle said he hoped that Nicholls’ support system would still be there when he is released to help him kick his Internet pornography addiction. Nicholls has until June 15 to report to the U.S. Marshal’s Service for incarceration.

As his supporters filed out of the courthouse, they passed by Nicholls in an impromptu receiving line, giving him hugs and words of support.

“Two years and three months – that’s a damn long time,” said Sandy Compton, a River Journal columnist and friend of Nicholls. “But I know Dennis will get through this. He’s going to write a book.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.