A respected oceanographer who was among the first scientists to explore the sunken wreckage of the Titanic is facing up to 20 years in prison after 22,000 child porn images were found on his computer.
Hard drives belonging to Dr William Kenneth Stewart were seized by investigators in Florida, U.S., and later found to contain the enormous stash of indecent images of children.
The 62-year-old, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of receiving child pornography, is due to be sentenced tomorrow at West Palm Beach federal court.
Stewart earned his doctorate in oceanographic engineering at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and spent 16 years with the renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) - one of the world's most respected marine research facilities.
In 1986, the year after the wreck of the Titanic was discovered by Dr Robert Ballard - also a WHOI scientist - Stewart was part of an expedition to further explore the doomed liner, and is understood to have operated a remote camera that captured footage of the wreck from an underwater research pod.
He had been chief scientist and chief consulting engineer at the South Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach since 1999.
Stewart's lawyer Dean Wilbur told the Orlando Sun Sentinel the case had been 'devastating' both to his client's professional career and to his family.
In a letter to the courts ahead of the sentencing tomorrow, Stewart's ex-wife said: 'Despite the hype, vilification and connection promoted in media and politics, I believe (as is supported by research) that receiving and viewing obscenity is very different from perpetrating it.
Victoria K Tauxe wrote that, while she did not wish to imply that receiving child pornography was a victimless crime, 'he did not directly hurt anyone'.
Impact statements written by victims of child pornography were also filed with the court.
'Regardless of whether they directly abused children themselves, reveled in the images of suffering, or persuaded others to abuse children on their behalf (to provide images of the abuse) each participant has a responsibility for the effects,' one statement read.
Stewart studied engineering at Duke University and marine technology at Cape Fear Technical Institute - both in North Carolina - before going on to study ocean engineering at Florida Atlantic University then obtain his PhD in oceanographic engineering from MIT in 1988.
Erika Fitzpatrick, spokeswoman for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, confirmed to the Sun Sentinel that Stewart was a student in the MIT/Woods Hole joint program between 1982 and 1988. He stayed on at Woods Hole as assistant scientist from 1988 to 1992, and associate scientist without tenure from 1992 to 1998.
The wreckage of the Titanic was discovered by a joint U.S. and French expedition led by Woods Hole scientist Robert Ballard in 1985.
While Stewart was not part of the original team, he did participate in the 1986 expedition to explore the wreck, the spokeswoman said.
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