CONCORD, N.H. — Former special needs school bus driver John Allen Wright will serve 160 years in federal prison for raping three “voiceless and vulnerable” autistic young boys on board his bus while videotaping his exploits, the state’s top federal prosecutor said Friday in asking for the maximum sentence.
“Rather than be their custodian, he was their predator. He was their pornographer and their tormentor,” U.S. Attorney for the District of New Hampshire John P. Kacavas said.
Wright, 47, formerly of Milton, N.H., parked his bus on the side of roads and in parking lots, then raped the boys — ages 4, 4½ and 8 — while wearing sunglasses equipped with a battery-operated digital camera, Kacavas said in U.S. District Court.
While the victims — who also are developmentally disabled — are seen on his videotapes “screaming, crying out and trying to resist” Wright’s assaults, their disabilities made them unable to communicate with their parents or teachers, Kacavas said.
“These children were prisoners of their disabilities and the defendant knew it,” the prosecutor added of Wright, who he said drove a special needs school bus from 2008 until his arrest in 2011.
“I classify it as torture,” Kacavas said after the one-hour sentencing hearing.
Two boys were assaulted in New Hampshire between Nov. 1, 2010, and April 30, 2011. One was assaulted in New Hampshire and Maine between July 1 and July 31, 2011.
None of the victims or their families were in court, Kacavas said.
Defense attorney Harry N. Starbranch immediately appealed the sentence to the First Circuit Court in Boston.
Starbranch pressed Judge Steven J. McAuliffe to impose a 25-year sentence with mental health treatment to be followed by full supervision upon release.
Wright suffers from an unspecified psychotic disorder and schizophrenia, he said.
“He had a horrific childhood. [There was] both physical and sexual abuse in his household,” Starbranch said.
Wright, he added, was unable to hold down a job, was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Army and has no criminal record.
While McAuliffe agreed Wright likely suffers from major mental illnesses, he imposed the maximum 160-year penalty and ordered him to undergo sexual offender treatment.
“These crimes are terribly destructive,” McAuliffe said.
“The primary issue for me is the need to protect the public, and the need to protect the public warrants a life sentence,” the judge explained.
Wright’s wife, Charlotte, wept quietly in her front row seat behind her husband. Wright cast a slight smile at his wife and blew her a kiss as U.S. marshals led him from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Wright’s school bus exploits were discovered by members of the New Hampshire Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in 2011 when they found him downloading and trading child pornography, Kacavas said.
Upon executing a search warrant at his Milton home, authorities found thousands of child sexual assault images. A subsequent federal search warrant revealed evidence linking Wright to the production of the videos. Wright was has been in custody since his indictment in October 2011.
Cases pending against Wright by the states of New Hampshire and Maine likely won’t be prosecuted given the lengthy prison sentence he received, Kacavas said.
Rochester, New London, Dover and Kittery, Maine, police departments, the FBI, and Strafford County Attorney’s office also investigated the case.
Wright was prosecuted under Project Safe Childhood, a national initiative to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse.