Homeland Security Investigations, Interpol, and the Colorado Internet Crimes against Children Task Force conducted an investigation into a former El Paso County sheriff’s deputy who had sexually assaulted a child, taken pictures of the abuse, and described the sexual assault on a darknet child abuse forum. The case has drawn attention from the media due, in part, to the convicted pedophile’s sentence: 10 years probation.
Donald Leigh Fair, a 44-year-old United States Army veteran and former law enforcement officer, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a child from a position of trust in exchange for 10 years to life probation. The probation, according to the plea agreement, will be one with terms and conditions tailored for criminals guilty of sex crimes. His plea agreement required a guilty plea to the single sexual assault charge; the prosecution dropped both child pornography charges.
At the time of the arrest in 2017, Fair worked as a District Attorney’s investigator. Much of his defense relied on Fair’s “exemplary heroism” displayed both overseas and in Texas. During his time with the Army, Fair saw combat and received wounds that led to a post traumatic stress disorder that impacted his life once he had returned to the United States. Fair said he had sexually assaulted the child while suffering from sleep deprivation caused by the disorder. He worked as an El Paso County sheriff’s deputy from 2005 to 2010 and again from 2013 until his 2017 arrest.
The 18th Judicial District Attorney, George Brauchler, attended the plea hearing and afterwards explained that the case could have gone to trial and resulted in an unfavorable verdict for the prosecution. He explained that, even though some might have disagreed with a probation sentence, the plea agreement was the best chance for the prosecution. Chief Deputy 18th Judicial District Attorney Christopher Gallo—who lobbied for the plea agreement—told the court that the prosecution could only prove one instance of sexual assault and that Fair had only taken one photo of the sexual assault. This, in their eyes, justified accepting the plea agreement versus risking acquittal at trial.
Interpol, in conjunction with Homeland Security Investigations, identified Fair through the comments he had posted on a darknet forum. Through an undisclosed method, the investigators linked Fair’s comments to his home IP address. After Fair’s arrest, a judge sealed the court documents detailing the investigation. The documents may have disclosed the identity of the victim—one of the reasons the prosecution cited in argument supporting the plea agreement. The documents also may have detailed the investigation that connected anonymous comments on the darknet to an IP address.
District Judge David A. Gilbert accepted the plea deal and gave an explanation for the unusually light sentence: Fair’s “extremely impressive record of service to the country.”