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Autistic Marine pleads guilty to desertion, child pornography

July 20, 2009 |  1:39 pm

A 21-year-old Marine diagnosed with autism and bipolar disorder pleaded guilty today to desertion, possession of child pornography and fraudulent enlistment and received a three-year suspended sentence and a bad-conduct discharge.

A plea bargain approved by Maj. Gen. Michael Lehnert calls for Pvt. Joshua Fry to serve one year in the brig with credit for the 359 days already served while he was awaiting court martial. As a result, Fry is set to leave the brig at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base by the end of the week, officials said.

If Fry possesses any child pornography in the next three years, he will be sent back to the brig to serve three years under a sentence meted out by the judge, Col. John Ewers.

Fry could have been sentenced to 42 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

"I've been a troublemaker my whole life," Fry told Ewers in an unsworn statement. "I feel bad for what I did. I realize my actions were wrong and immoral."

Fry's grandmother, Mary Beth Fry, of Newport Beach, testified she has arranged for him to attend a 42-day treatment program at a mental hospital in Torrance and then an additional program in New Mexico geared toward sex offenders.

But the lead prosecutor, Major Meridith Marshall, told the judge that Fry "could walk out of treatment at any time."

The Marine Corps is investigating how Fry, who lived in Orange County, was allowed to enlist even though his recruiter knew he had been diagnosed as autistic. Mary Beth Fry testified that the same day her grandson enlisted in the Marine Corps, he was approved for Social Security payments as mentally disabled.

After graduating from boot camp in San Diego, Fry was sent to Camp Pendleton for infantry training. Within weeks, he had tried to run away and was found to have child pornography on his laptops and cellphones.

The fraudulent enlistment charge comes from the fact that he did not tell his recruiter that he had once had psychiatric treatment for an addiction to child pornography.

"I want to succeed in overcoming these inappropriate urges," Fry told Ewers.

The child pornography charge will require Fry to register as a sex offender with civilian law enforcement.

-- Tony Perry at Camp Pendleton