A Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island drill instructor has been arrested and charged with child sex crimes in Texas after a months-long sting.
Sgt. Keith Knight, whom Parris Island officials confirmed Thursday was a drill instructor with the depot’s Recruit Training Regiment at the time of his arrest, faces two second-degree felony counts of promotion of child pornography, according to the Houston Chronicle.
If convicted, he could be imprisoned for up to 40 years, according to the newspaper.
Parris Island spokesperson Staff Sgt. Greg Thomas said an outside agency conducted a search on the depot on Nov. 17. A day later, Thomas said, Knight was in the hands of “civilian authorities in Beaufort County” awaiting transfer to Montgomery County, Texas.
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Specifically, Knight is alleged to have initially sent a nude photo of an infant to an undercover officer via an internet instant messaging application, according to the Chronicle. As the conversation transpired over a few days, he allegedly “sent the investigator multiple photos and a video depicting young children performing sexual acts,” according to that newspaper.
And he allegedly showed interest in traveling to Texas to watch the undercover officer — posing as a 28-year-old woman — “perform sexual acts with a 5-year-old girl.”
Knight was one of 36 people caught in the sting.
The Montgomery County jail log lists Knight, 26, as hailing from Moncks Corner. He is being held on two $100,000 bonds. His date of incarceration is listed as Dec. 9.
Knight’s defense attorney, E. Tay Bond, noted that “his client is not charged with producing any child pornography, and even more importantly, that Knight and any alleged victim in the case were not from anywhere near Montgomery County,” according to the Chronicle.
“Montgomery County is dedicating substantial resources to prosecute these claims,” Bond told that newspaper. “The only actual tie to Montgomery County is it was sent to an internet address that originated in Montgomery County. There was no actual defendant in Montgomery County, and there was no alleged child victim in Montgomery County. There is no evidence that the alleged minor portrayed in the child pornography was even in Texas, much less Montgomery County.”
Mary Nan Huffman, chief prosecutor with the internet crimes against children division in that county, said her case against Knight is strong.
“He sent child pornography to one of our undercover officers,” she told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette on Thursday morning.
The sting was intended to be localized to Montgomery County, she said, but, as is sometimes the case, people from other places get caught up in the process. Knight’s alleged actions were concerning because he indicated a desire to travel to Texas to participate in child sex acts. And, she said, her division acts quickly when there’s the possibility a “live victim” — a child — could be involved. Knight said her division is investigating all leads.
A redacted copy of the search warrant provided by Huffman’s office shows that “Room 320, Building 931” at the depot was searched. Knight’s personal computer, “personal cameras” and telephone were specifically listed.
Building 931 is a barracks, Thomas said. Room 320 is a personal space within that building.
When Marines are charged by civilian authorities, there’s “always a chance” they might face military justice or administrative action through the Corps, Thomas said.
In terms of Knight’s current status with the Corps, Thomas said it’s a gray area.
“He’s still a Marine, that’s for certain,” he said, “but he’s in the hands of civilian authorities.”