Man-pleads-guilty-to-child-sex-crimes

Date: 2007-10-23

Man pleads guilty to child-sex crimes: He could spend life in prison in the case that prompted coverage around the world

Willoughby Mariano
The Orlando Sentinel

Oct. 23 She gained international attention as a victim, the subject of child pornography made at a Walt Disney World resort. Her photographs haunted police investigators who worked to save her.

On Monday, after her attacker pleaded guilty to sex crimes in Orlando, she stood before him, a judge, a television camera and her family to declare she is far more than merely the victim in those photographs.

"I survived. I have God. I am me, not because of what people did to me, but because of what I did," said the girl, now 15.

Her attacker, Matthew Mancuso, 49, pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted sexual battery on a child under 12, a first-degree felony.

The Pennsylvania man accepted the deal in exchange for a 14-year prison sentence, which he will serve after he is finished with a 15 1/2 -year sentence on federal charges and 35 years in a related case from his home state.

Mancuso entered the plea just as his trial was scheduled to begin Monday in Orange Circuit Court. During his plea, he stood before Circuit Judge Bob LeBlanc in a sport coat too large for his slight frame and nearly broke into tears.

"I would like to make a public apology to everything that's happened up to this point," Mancuso said. He will serve time for two incidents: one at Disney's Contemporary Resort in 2000 and a second at Port Orleans Resort in 2001.

The plea spares the victim from testifying. If she did, she might have been shown the pornographic images as part of court proceedings, Assistant State Attorney Linda Drane Burdick said.

The Orange-Osceola State Attorney's Office decided to prosecute Mancuso, even though he already was serving time, to increase the chances that he will spend the rest of his life in prison, Burdick said. The Pennsylvania case is under appeal, and it is possible the sentence will be struck down.

"Also, you don't get a freebie," Burdick added.

The case made headlines in February 2005 when members of the Internet-porn unit of the Toronto police released versions of the child-porn photographs with the images of the girl digitally removed. They feared she was still being abused and appealed to viewers for help identifying where the attacks took place.

Hotel guests said the rooms resembled those at Walt Disney World's Port Orleans Resort, so Canadian authorities asked for help from the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

The photographs included views of a fountain, elevator, bed and in-room hot tub. The girl appeared weary and resigned to the abuse she was suffering.

"What we see here . . . is a broken spirit," Toronto police Detective Sgt. Paul Gillespie said at the time.

They also released photographs found online of another young girl in an attempt to find the pornographer. A couch, gym equipment and flooring in photos of this witness appeared to be identical to those of photographs depicting the sex victim in the Disney case. The second child was not thought to have been abused.

Unbeknownst to Canadian authorities, an FBI Internet-pornography task force had arrested Mancuso in May 2003. He had already begun serving a federal sentence.

The girl's sexual ordeal had ended, and she settled into a new, private life with her mother. The Orlando Sentinel is not identifying the girl because she was a victim of sexual abuse.

Her mother said she is dedicated to making sure her daughter gets to live a normal life from now on.

"She has not had a childhood at all," she said. "She's 15 years old."

Willoughby Mariano can be reached at wmariano@orlandosentinel.com

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