A Spokane mother in a gray jail jumpsuit told a federal judge Wednesday there will “never be an excuse” for her decision to film herself performing a sexual act on her own daughter, then sending it over the internet to at least 10 people.
“I will live every day with the knowledge that I caused your pain,” Jessica Barrington, 31, said in remarks directed to her child, who was not present in a federal courtroom Wednesday.
The admission of guilt and pledge to improve herself convinced U.S. Senior District Court Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson to reject the federal prosecutor’s office request that Barrington, previously known as Jessica Cunnington, spend 28 years behind bars. Instead, Peterson sentenced her to 20 years on a charge of production of child pornography. Barrington pleaded guilty in April.
After a frequently contentious back-and-forth with Assistant U.S. Attorney Dave Herzog concerning other child sexual abuse cases brought in the district, Peterson said she saw “no value” in imprisoning Barrington for another eight years based on her motivation to seek treatment while in jail since January 2019.
In one particularly heated moment, Herzog told Peterson that her decision to sentence Barrington to a decade of supervised release following imprisonment violated the terms of the plea agreement, in which federal prosecutors, Barrington’s defense attorney and the county prosecutors who had charged her with child rape had agreed to a lifetime of supervision. Peterson then said she’d change her ruling on supervision to life, telling Barrington that she could petition to have it removed for good behavior after her release.
“That will look better in the press release, I’m sure,” Peterson said, looking at Herzog.
Herzog said because of Barrington’s actions, her children will not know their mother, and asked Peterson to send a message with her verdict.
“The community should know, if you assault your child, the consequences are severe,” Herzog said.
Amy Rubin, Barrington’s attorney, told Peterson that her client was “not a monster,” and argued for Peterson to give the mother a chance to reform herself. She said Barrington had been housed in an area of the Spokane County Jail reserved for female offenders awaiting trial for similar sexual offenses, sitting in solitary confinement in a section known as “the dog pound.”
As an infant, Barrington watched her father bludgeon her mother to death, Rubin said. Four psychologists met with her in prison and found that she suffered from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, but that she was treatable.
Barrington said she still physically recoils from confrontation and was not encouraged in her adopted home to talk about the death of her mother.
“I do not cognitively remember her death,” Barrington told Peterson on Wednesday. “But my body does.”
Herzog said prosecutors considered Barrington’s past trauma in their request for 28 years. She could have been facing a life sentence, he said. Herzog argued that the evidence showed Barrington was reaching out online for attention.
“I do not understand why children had to come into it,” Herzog said.
Authorities were alerted to the online activity in December 2018, after a friend of Barrington’s and her then-husband, Jason Cunnington, told police the mother of three had admitted to filming the sexual acts with her toddler and shared them online. The FBI, meanwhile, was already involved in a sting in California involving a man named Tim Marchini when they discovered messages between him and Barrington, as well as the images Barrington had taken of her daughter.
Investigators recovered at least one image of Barrington “performing oral sex” on her 3-year-old daughter, according to court records, recorded in August 2018. The messages between Barrington and Marchini, who had previously been convicted on child sex charges, discussed additional sexual acts involving Barrington’s other children, all under the age of 7, according to court records.
Marchini pleaded guilty in May 2020 to a single count of possession of child pornography. Peterson sentenced him to 10 years in prison in August 2020.
At the time of the criminal activity, Barrington was married to Cunnington. The two have since divorced. Cunnington was in the courtroom Wednesday and told Barrington that her daughter had told friends at school that her mother was dead.
“You are no longer part of our lives,” Cunnington said.
Peterson let Barrington, led by U.S. Marshals, listen to the statement of her ex-husband about the crime’s effect on their children in another room, through a door that was cracked open.
A row of friends and family, including Barrington’s adoptive parents, sat behind her Wednesday morning as she delivered an at-times tearful admission of guilt for an act she called “reckless and selfish.”
“The most important part of all this is how my children have been affected, and how they will hopefully heal,” Barrington said.
Peterson said the 20-year sentence would give Barrington a chance to continue to improve herself.
“I agree with Ms. Rubin,” Peterson said. “People can be fixed. People can be redeemed.”
Rubin and Barrington shared an embrace after the verdict. The 31-year-old was then led from the courtroom in handcuffs.