Independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler speaks at a news conference, Nov. 3, 2010, in Portland, Maine. The wealthy former gubernatorial candidate charged with possession of child pornography plans to change his plea next month in Hancock County. The hearing for Cutler, who previously pleaded not guilty, is scheduled for Thursday, May 4, 2023, in Superior Court, a court clerk said Tuesday, April 11. Credit: Joel Page / AP

Eliot Cutler’s plea agreement with the Hancock County district attorney’s office is consistent with other convictions in Maine courts for possessing child pornography, but carries a far lighter sentence than he would have faced in federal court.

The huge number of images of children under the age of 12 — 83,780 according to court documents — found on his electronic devices would have given him time in a federal prison.

Because he is expected to serve nine months, Cutler can be incarcerated at the Hancock County Jail rather than in a Maine Department of Corrections prison where defendants are sent if their sentences are longer than that.

The plea agreement calls for Cutler to be sentenced to four years with all but nine months suspended followed by six years of probation. He would be required to register as a sex offender for 10 years. He is scheduled to change his not guilty pleas to either guilty or no contest Thursday in Hancock County Superior Court in Ellsworth.

If Superior Court Justice Robert Murray were to reject the plea agreement, Cutler could withdraw his pleas and go to trial.

Whether a defendant is charged in state or federal court most often is based on which law enforcement agency investigated the case. For example, drug charges investigated by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency are filed in state court while those handled by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration are filed in U.S. District Court in Portland or Bangor.

Possession of child pornography under state law is a Class C crime punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Under federal law, people convicted of the same crime face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

The maximum sentence for sharing child pornography under federal law is 20 years. Under the federal sentencing guidelines, the more images downloaded and/or shared, the longer the sentence.

Based on 10 years’ worth of data, the average time to serve in a Maine jail for a child pornography possession charge is six months, according to court documents filed in Ellsworth.

Longtime Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy on Tuesday praised how Hancock County District Attorney Robert Granger, elected in November, handled Cutler’s case. In announcing the plea agreement, Granger cited Cutler’s age — 77 — and the court backlog due to the coronavirus pandemic, as reasons the deal made sense.

“My opinion is that DA Granger is handling this difficult case in a responsible and fair-minded fashion,” Almy said. “Overloaded courts are hindering our ability to prosecute effectively.”

U.S. Attorney Darcie McElwee declined to comment on how much prison time Cutler could have faced had he been charged with federal crimes.

While Cutler is the most high-profile Maine resident charged with possessing child pornography, two Penobscot County cases involving prominent community members resulted in sentences similar to the one outlined in Cutler’s plea agreement.

The former finance director for the Bangor School Department was sentenced in December 2019 to three years in prison with all but six months suspended, followed by two years of probation.

Alan Kochis, then 65 of Brewer, pleaded guilty to viewing child pornography depicting boys under the age of 12.

Well-known Brewer disc jockey Dana Wilson, now 72 and living in Florida, was sentenced in 2014 to 2½ years in prison with all but nine months suspended after he was convicted in a jury-waived trial of possessing child pornography. Investigators testified that they found fewer than a dozen images and videos of child pornography on two laptops seized from Wilson’s home in 2011.

On the other hand, Maine’s former top drug prosecutor is serving a nearly 16-year sentence at a federal prison in Littleton, Colorado. James Cameron, now 60, was convicted in federal court in Bangor of transporting, receiving and possessing child pornography between July 10, 2006, and Jan. 26, 2008. He cut off his ankle bracelet and absconded while on bail awaiting the outcome of his appeal, but was captured in Albuquerque, New Mexico, after about three weeks on the run. Investigators found between 150 and 300 images of child pornography, far fewer than Cutler allegedly had, on his home, but not work, computers.

Cameron is due to be released next May.

The most severe sentences in state and federal courts are imposed on those who sexually abuse children, photograph or record that abuse and share it online.

Wade Robert Hoover, now 45, of Augusta was sentenced in July 2013 to 40 years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to one count each of production and possession of child pornography. Hoover admitted to sexually assaulting two boys who took karate classes from him and sharing the images online.

Hoover worked for the Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, in Augusta.

In 2016, Hoover drew a state sentence of 60 years in prison for the sexual assaults. He is incarcerated in Virginia, serving his state and federal sentences simultaneously. He will be returned to Maine in 2046 to complete the 60-year state sentence after he serves the 40-year federal sentence.