Ex-chamber exec gets 15 months

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 20, 2014

The former executive director of the Andalusia Area Chamber of Commerce will spend 15 months in prison and five years on probation.

Presiding Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan granted the split sentence to Ashley Bostwick Eiland in a probation hearing Thursday morning.

She was taken into custody immediately after the hearing.

Eiland pleaded guilty in May to one count of possession of obscene matter for possessing nude photographs of a child under the age of 17. Following her plea, McKathan sentenced Eiland to a 10-year prison term.

Thursday, Eiland’s 10-year sentence was suspended by McKathan in favor of a split sentence that will include 15 months in prison, as well as a five-year probation term.

Covington County District Attorney Walt Merrell said the state was satisfied with the sentence, considering other possibilities for Eiland’s sentencing included only probation.

“The judge could’ve given her outright probation,” Merrell said. “I thought she needed to serve prison time.”

Merrell said, had Eiland served her original sentence of 10 years, she would likely have been released much earlier, with no additional probationary period.

“With the prison climate the way it is today, she could have been out in three years,” he said.

Instead, Merrell said Eiland will serve not a day less or more than her 15 months in an Alabama Department of Corrections prison, before serving no less than five years of additional probation.

“She’ll have to register as a sex offender,” he said. “She had a very predatory lifestyle on young, teenage boys. She was very persuasive with them.”

Eiland, 49, was arrested following an investigation by the District Attorney’s Office and the Andalusia Police Department that began in December after Chief Assistant District Attorney Grace Jeter received information that Eiland was in possession of nude images of a child less than 17 years old.

On Dec. 5, 2013, investigators from the two agencies executed multiple search warrants on Eiland’s home and workplace. Several items of potential evidence were seized and later delivered to the National Computer Forensic Institute in Hoover, according to a statement from the DA’s office.

The results of that analysis revealed that there were numerous photographs of children under the age of 17 years of age on a Dell laptop computer, which had been seized from Eiland’s workplace, the statement said. The forensic analyst determined that the images originated from a cellular telephone belonging to Eiland and had been stored as back-up files on the laptop.

Merrell said the evidence showed Eiland was involved in a relationship with one particular 16-year-old male, adding that the digital evidence recovered from Eiland’s phone and laptop showed that the nature of the relationship was consensual and sexual in nature. Merrell said these “messages” between the 16-year-old and Eiland demonstrated that she possessed the graphic images, not by happenstance or accident, but because it was part of the ongoing sexual relationship.

Merrell noted Eiland was not charged with statutory rape because in order for that charge to apply, the victim has to be under the age of 16 at the time of sexual intercourse. Following Thursday’s sentencing, Merrell said the law can be confusing, but his office feels justice was served considering the circumstances of the case.

“The only criminal offense was child pornography,” Merrell said. “It may seem counterintuitive that the child was old enough for sex, but not old enough to exchange nude photos. But, the law states a 16-year-old can have sex with whoever they want to. We did a risk assessment (on sentencing) and came to an agreement where we met in the middle.”