RICHMOND, Va. -- Wearing crocs and a navy jail uniform, Troy George Skinner, 28, tearfully apologized for flying across the globe and attempting to break into the home of a young girl with whom he had an online relationship.
“Upon reading the victim impact statement, I was at a loss for words,” Skinner said in a thick New Zealand accent. “I’ve come to understand the family’s pain and grief. I am very sorry.”
During a two-hour hearing on Friday, Skinner received a sentence of 21 years in prison from U.S. District Judge M. Hannah Lauck on one count of producing child pornography. The federal case against Skinner began in June 2018 when he threw a paving stone through the glass window of the kitchen door on a Goochland home where his victim lived.
The girl, who was 13 when the two met online, reportedly broke up with Skinner prior to his trip to the United States. Her mother shot Skinner in the neck as he tried to enter their home. Once in custody, investigators found pepper spray, a pocket knife and duct tape on Skinner.
Indicted on 11 federal charges, Skinner took a plea deal last year but did not know how much time he would have to serve in the U.S. before being deported back to New Zealand. Prosecutors asked for 28 to 30 years while defense attorneys argued for the minimum sentence of 15 years.
Judge Lauck acknowledged expert opinions that diagnosed Skinner as a dependent personality with avoidance traits due to a traumatic childhood filled with abuse and abandonment. However, she noted Skinner’s crimes showed “just too much premeditation and nasty conduct” to be worthy of a minimum sentence.
Skinner’s lawyers claimed he believed the victim to be 16-years-old, the legal age of consent in his home country, and that he was unaware he had done anything illegal by surreptitiously recording some 49 videos of her naked during their conversations.
“It was not a reasonable belief that she was 16,” said Judge Lauck. “It is enough, from the victim’s perspective, that you took the videos. It doesn’t matter if you had no intent to distribute. They are child pornography.”
Judge Lauck also took into account victim impact statements. While those documents are not public record, the judge quoted numerous key points including that the family’s home no longer feels like a safe haven, that there will be a lifelong impact on the girl’s ability to build healthy relationships, that every date will feel like a potential threat and that the family does not feel “spared” by Skinner’s decision to not take the case to trial. She read aloud the phrases “marathon of grief,” and “[Skinner’s] act of selfishness robbed them of forever.”
Numerous letters in support of Skinner did seem to impact Judge Lauck and gave her reason to believe he could one day be a productive member of society. In particular, she referenced a letter from the Superintendent of the jail where Skinner has been in custody for more than three years. It refers to Skinner as exemplary in attitude and demeanor, saying “he has demonstrated significant and material growth in his personal level of responsibility and accountability.”
Calling the letter unheard of, Judge Lauck imposed a sentence of 21 years with credit for time served. As there is no parole for federal crimes, Skinner is expected to serve a minimum of 85 percent of his sentence. Upon release, he will be extradited to New Zealand where he will be required to register as a sex offender.
Having already earned a GED during his incarceration, Skinner said he hopes to learn a trade and make use of his time behind bars.
“I’ve discovered that I like to work,” Skinner read from a yellow-lined piece of paper. “I will continue working to be a better person.”
“I hope that you see that even though this is a very bad day, you are on the right path,” said Judge Lauck at the hearing’s conclusion. She encouraged Skinner to continue seeking Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in prison and working on himself. “Perhaps this is the start of turning you into the person you were meant to be. I wish you well.”