A Pearlington man was sentenced Wednesday to 40 years in prison for sexual exploitation of a 5-year-old girl, the District Attorney's Office says in a news release.
The child's mother discovered the abuse in June 2017 when she found a pornographic video of the child on the cellphone of Curtis Wathen, 27, during his birthday party.
Wathen had been abusing the child for at least a month, an investigation by the Hancock County Sheriff's Office determined.
The investigation included a forensic interview with the child, plus a physical examination.
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Wathen pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery and two counts of child exploitation. Wathen confessed to recording two incidents of sexually abusing the child.
At the plea hearing before Circuit Court Judge Larry Bourgeois, the child's mother said: “[I] will never forget what you have done. It has been one of the hardest lessons in life, but we are moving on, and we won’t allow you to hold us back anymore. I forgive you, and pray every day that God will come into your life.
"As a mother, I am more educated, stronger and wiser. I hope anyone going through this will step forward, because there is help, and it’s hard but people will fight for you and fight for justice.”
Bourgeois said before sentencing Wathen: “[Y]ou took advantage of a 5-year-old child — a baby — and you filmed it. You took her dignity and her innocence. You ruined lives.”
Wathen will not be eligible for early release and must register as a sex offender when he finishes serving his sentence. Assistant District Attorney Chris Daniel prosecuted the case.