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Kevin* is a likable guy who lives with his wife in New Jersey. And he's on probation after serving time in a federal prison for committing a disturbing crime. Producer Pat Walters helps untangle a difficult story about accountability, and a troubling set of questions about identity and self-control. Kevin's doctor, neuroscientist Orrin Devinsky, claims that what happened to Kevin could happen to any of us under similar circumstances -- in a very real way, it wasn't entirely his fault. But prosecutor Lee Vartan explains why he believes Kevin is responsible just the same, and should have served the maximum sentence.


NOTE: We agreed not to reveal Kevin's real name in our reporting. If you know him or figure out his real name, please don't post it here -- in order to respect Kevin's privacy on our site, we'll remove any comments mentioning or linking to his real name.

Produced by:

Pat Walters

Comments [17]


This discussion was premised almost entirely on a straw man of the judges ruling. She didn’t say that Kevin was responsible for his impulsive activities around the viewing of child pornography, yet that is all the Doctor addresses. He very clearly lays out WHY Kevin isn’t responsible for his actions there, and clearly explained why Kevin could behave one way at home at night and another way at the office during the day. The judge did NOT dispute this!!! She said that Kevin had a duty when he wasn’t under the control of those impulses to take some volitional action to address his problematic behavior. Kevin should have gone to a doctor, his wife, a therapist, etc., when he was in control in an effort to change his actions. Even if that hadn’t worked, it would have shown that he was trying to stop. The fact he didn’t was the reason why he was sentenced to jail time, NOT because the judge thought he was responsible for viewing the pornography in the firstborn place. This episode was an infuriatingly off topic diatribe against a judicial order that doesn’t exist, and it was disheartening that nobody pointed out to the doctor that his pronouncements of the causes of Kevin’s behavior were in no way inconsistent with the judge’s decision.

Jan. 16 2018 01:08 PM
jenifer from USA

I'm not even through this entire story and it's scared the living daylights out of me. His story was heartbreaking. I guess this will not happen with other.tube8

Sep. 26 2017 05:39 PM
Janine Walters from Center Point, Ia

What time did Kevins judge give her verdict?
Had she eaten recently??

Jul. 30 2017 03:45 PM
Adrena from Wisconsin

I dont feel like his problem is child pornography because he had so many other types of sexual fetishes on his computer. The child ones just happen to be the only ones that were illegal. Claiming hes a pedophile is wrong because hes not turned on by children but the act of sex from his change in his brain after surgery. Part of his issue is also an uncontrollable need to click further into a topic and almost on an OCD level, hit every button that popped up. I believe the judge was fair because he should have told someone the first time he clicked into it and couldnt stop himself, especially his doctor. He also could have gotten rid of the home computer. He should be held personally responsible for that but not for the uncontrollable issues caused by a surgery.

Jul. 07 2017 11:47 PM
Kelli from Reality Place

I believe there is something to the brain operations leading to Kevin's increased lack of impulse control however, Kevin clearly knew right from wrong. He clearly knew there was something seriously wrong with his desire to view and download those horrible pictures and that possessing child pornography was a crime so why didn't he do anything about it? And not just because it's off the charts morally wrong but he didn't do anything to protect those young children or himself. Why didn't he go back to his doctors and say he we have a problem here or try desperately to do something about it before he was found out. I wish the hosts would have asked him about this instead of focusing on a doctor who essentially said he had no choice in the matter the operation made him do it. Hocum.

Jul. 06 2017 09:30 PM
SM from Pa

I'm not even through this entire story and it's scared the living daylights out of me. I'm scheduled in 3 weeks for a SEEG test, and depending on the results of that, possibly a lobeectomy two months after that. I've been warned that there are possible side effects, but this on, in particular has not been mentioned. I've got to schedule a follow up call with my surgeon (no visit... he's three hours away... I can't drive there) immediately. If this is a possibility even after having a SEEG test before the lobeectomy, I don't know if I can go through with it.

Jul. 06 2017 10:06 AM
Kristen Halvorsen from Oregon

I have had to deal for the last 3 years (16 if we include the whole marriage) with the damage done by someone who cannot seem to control relationship-damaging behaviors, cannot seem to empathize with the person to whom the damage was done (at least not in a way which amounts to any real action or "work" to help repair it), and who either "cannot" or "will not" (both?) actively seek the help and therapy that would be needed in order to go forward and have a meaningful life and healthy relationships. This person has a history of frontal lobe brain injury, concussions, and pretty serious borderline and narcissistic/anti-social and dependent personality disorders. Sadly, he can "feel" all the pain and guilt, but cannot seem to change damaging behaviors or accept that he NEEDS serious help, over a very long term, and that medication could possibly be of some help. He medicates himself now with alcohol, has acquired a new brain injury to the right frontal lobe (yet continues with the alcohol), and is verbally abusive, chronically suicidal, and seems unable to cope at all with loss, grief, guilt, or "real life." The most tragic parts of it are that A) He is practically unmanageable by any of us in his family, and B) All psychiatric or psychological care must be "voluntary" unless we take his rights by the court and have him involuntarily committed, but even if we did, that still doesn't guarantee that he will actually cooperate with meds, therapy, DBT/CBT, etc. We are watching him now drink himself to death...and there is nothing we can do.
This all has really made me question a lot of things...most especially, the irony of modern medicine. A hundred years ago, he never would have survived his injuries. Now, we are so determined to keep people "alive" who experience them, but we do not have the systems in place to help them "live" the life we were so desperate to save. I know this is a tough issue. It makes me ask, "Why are we so afraid to let people die, especially those that "want out?" I realize that we can never know how things might turn out for someone we save, but agencies still have not caught up with the idea that the brain is an ORGAN, and when it is broken, it is a HELLISH life for the victim. We act like mental health has nothing to do with physical health, and like these people actually have the power of choice when maybe they actually don't. And, if someone is a danger to others (much less themselves), yet WILL NOT accept their issues and WILL NOT or CANNOT (look up "anosognosia") cooperate with the help that they need, what are we to do to protect them and ourselves??? SO SAD. And so easy to try to talk about what families should do, or the power of mercy and forgiveness in that context, UNTIL you actually walk in the shoes of those the mother who was stabbed to death by her schizonphrenic son who WOULD NOT stay on his meds.
I believe in eternal life. We all die. I'll see him on the other side. Mercy.

May. 09 2016 06:10 PM
kirk from boulder, CO

David's position begins with "blameworthiness is the wrong question". He says that instead recidivism is what we should focus on. But in response, even the law professor says "yeah, sure, but then won't we punish people for crimes they haven't committed?"

The blindingly obvious answer is that *punishment* is the wrong response, just as blameworthiness is the wrong question. If, as in the hypothetical, someone is arrested for a more minor offense and some kind of brain scan reveals they have the potential to do much greater harm, jailing them for years and years (our fear) seems unhelpful in the first place. From a social-norms/deterrence point of view, it seems obvious that this will have no effect whatsoever, since it isn't social norms or culture that would counter brain-chemistry-driven crime.

So just as we should focus on recidivism instead of blame, we should focus on something else instead of punishment. I can understand a "well, it's too hard/costly to rehabilitate someone like that, so just jail them to keep everyone else safe" kind of argument, but imprisoning someone is so amazingly costly anyway that it seems like a very difficult argument to make without hard data about it.

Some combination of rehabilitation and preemptive-habilitation (like preventative medicine with a criminal-justice focus) seems like a good starting point.

I can't claim to know the best answer of course, since I don't study this subject at all, but I was very surprised how much the discussion was restricted to the current system. Why is it that even in a counterfactual we are so convinced that everything should be as it has always been?

Mar. 04 2015 10:38 PM
Julia from Germany

I found this story touching and terrifying, and perhaps one that many people who have experienced mental illness could relate to. A few years ago, I reacted badly to a medication I was taking, and it threw me very suddenly into a severe depression. I went from leading a normal life to planning my suicide within the space of two days. While an ever-diminishing voice inside me was screaming "this isn't you!", I still couldn't rid myself of the thoughts. Perhaps if I had had to risk being imprisoned, I wouldn't have talked to anyone about it. I was able to get help, and after quite a struggle to figure out the causes and appropriate remedy for my illness, I am back to some degree of normalcy, but the experience has changed me. I now know that I am not really completely in control of my own brain - a terrifying thought. I had felt as though I, myself, everything I had constructed in my lifetime to create "me", was being erased and replaced by something horrible. Although the precipitous despair is now gone, the memory of it remains very clear.

I spend a great deal of time in Germany, now, and they currently have a public service announcement on TV aimed at people who have pedophilic thoughts and who want to treatment, with a number to call for help in getting counseling and medical advice. It's kind of shocking and disturbing to see, but I think a really, really good idea to help stop potential abuse before it occurs.

Oct. 23 2014 10:41 AM
Joe from New Jersey from New jersey

This is the first time I have spoken about this to strangers. It is not an easy subject to talk about. My story parallels Kevin's almost verbatim; I was arrested for the same crime. This crime only happened in my home, no where else. I don,t why I committed this crime but I knew what I was doing was wrong and yet I proceeded with my actions anyway. I blame myself entirely for my actions, no one else. This was 5 years ago; I am ashamed and still cannot forgive myself. I am on medication and have not repeated my crime. Listening to Kevin's story helped me realize that I am not alone in this and I am human and vulnerable to temptation. Than you for the show. This is a subject that needs to be explored further.

May. 04 2014 03:04 PM

I believe that without Human Responsibility being as inherent as Human Rights, there is no protection between us and the Void. "Kevin" knew he was doing wrong, and CHOSE to ignore it. Ask yourself what you would do if your spouse or best friend or parent were into kiddie porn. If "nothing", you are an accomplice. There is a reason for all human behavior, this case is clear and to the extent that the judge followed sentencing guidelines, I agree with her. It is interesting to note that he WAS in counseling but kept his perversion secret from the one guy who could have and would have fixed him. I also note that his CLAIM to be "cured" is just a claim. He IS a pedophile at least virtually, what makes anyone believe he is actually on his meds? What makes people think, his weekend hobby isn't abduction and rape? After all, he can't "help" himself, its his brain's fault. What we know for sure is that he not only can't control his worst impulses, but won't seek help to control them. If prison /institutionalization is to protect the public, the question is, how do we protect ourselves from him? Who monitors him for the rest of his life?

Mar. 22 2014 02:00 AM
Jen Bailey

David, the disease referenced in this story was Kluver-Bucy syndrome.

Nov. 20 2013 01:40 AM
David Nielson from Salt Lake City, UT

I couldn't quite figure out how to spell or search for the name of the disorder mentioned in this story. Could you post it here please? Thanks.

Nov. 14 2013 08:17 PM

This was an interesting story because it made me think more about how pedophilia is a neurological/uncontrollable urge that many people suffer with and don't necessarily act on. There was a Dan Savage podcast voicemail from a man who was suicidal because he couldn't rid himself of thoughts, but didn't want to seek help for fear of being thrown in jail. This is a good article about the topic -

Sep. 27 2013 03:44 AM
Dave P from SLC, Utah

This podcast was very difficult to listen to. Earlier this year my wife answered our door to find a group of detectives from the State Attorney Generals Crimes Against Children Task Force. Officers rushed in and searched our entire house. They went through all of our personal things searching for child pornography. I was not home at the time, but received a call from my neighbor telling me that police were at my home. I tried calling my wife but there was no answer (they had taken her phone). I rushed home thinking that my wife and 18 month old son had been murdered. I walk in and am met with a search warrant for child pornography. I look to my wife and can only guess what she is thinking. I am immediately taken away and questioned; awful questions. I claim innocence, but no one believes me. They search my home, find nothing and leave after 6 hours. I had the worst night of my life. I was unable to sleep and was nervous the entire next day for any sound; any closing door or any knock on the neighbor’s door. Are they back? Am I going to lose my life and my family for something that I did not do? Ultimately, it turns out that it was all a mistake and I should never have been targeted (they had the IP address wrong). This experience has changed my world view and has caused me to think about things that I never thought that I would have to think about before. I have great sympathy for those who are wrongly accused and find myself with less sympathy than I had before for those who are factually guilty of heinous crimes. Sentences are not just to punish the offender, but are also to keep society safe from the crimes that offenders may continue to commit if not incarcerated. While I don’t feel that “Kevin” is entirely to “blame,” for his crimes, I feel that the judge in this case did the right thing.

Sep. 20 2013 02:41 PM
Mallorie from Las Vegas

Listening to this my heart breaks for Kevin. I hope he reads this, and knows walking though this story with him, there is no way I could judge him.
I am so sorry anyone had to go though this.

Sep. 19 2013 12:05 PM
Roger from Queensland, Australia

Some relevant books:

"Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will" [Paperback]
Nancey Murphy (Author), Warren S. Brown (Author)

"Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience" [Hardcover]
Sally Satel (Author), Scott O. Lilienfeld (Author)

Sep. 17 2013 05:30 PM

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