To federal prosecutors, he is a medically diagnosed pedophile who manipulated children so he could sexually abuse them.
To his defense attorney, he is someone with a child’s mind in a man’s body — a victim of abuse himself.
And to the parents of the children Deonte Carraway abused under the guise of helping them with homework or teaching them to sing, he is simply a monster.
Varying portraits of Carraway emerged in court Monday when a federal judge sentenced the former elementary school aide and volunteer to 75 years in prison in a wide-reaching child sex abuse scandal that rattled Prince George’s County.
Carraway, 23, of Glenarden, pleaded guilty in January to 15 counts of sexual exploitation of a minor to produce child pornography.
In his first public statements about the case since his February 2016 arrest, Carraway said he was ashamed of his actions and still loves the parents of the children victimized in the case.
“Kids have my heart . . . .” Carraway said in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Md. “When I’m around kids, I feel like a child.”
Carraway, wearing black prison scrubs, said he did not know that what he was doing was wrong, even though he sometimes felt guilty after engaging in explicit acts with the children.
“I'm not the monster that people are portraying me to be,” Carraway said.
Carraway’s conviction in federal court involves 12 children between the ages of 9 and 13, but the wide-ranging sex abuse investigation involves at least twice as many children, according to police and prosecutors.
Carraway also faces local charges in Prince George’s County Circuit Court, where a grand jury indicted him on 270 counts of sex abuse and related charges.
Carraway worked and volunteered at Judge Sylvania W. Woods Elementary School in Glenarden, where he also created a community choir. In those roles, Carraway interacted often with children and eventually created a group called the AKA Club.
He handed out cellphones to children and told them if they wanted to join the club, they had to send him inappropriate videos or photos of themselves through an anonymous social-messaging app, authorities said.
“There’s just no way, Mr. Carraway, to restate the magnitude and the enormity of the harm you caused,” U.S. District Court Judge Deborah K. Chasanow said before imposing the sentence. “You knew it was wrong in some sense and yet you persisted.”
Federal prosecutors said Carraway is a medically diagnosed pedophile who could not stop thinking about sex with children.
At a time when “children should have been playing on the playground or collecting Pokémon cards,” a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” was indoctrinating them into a club he created to manipulate and abuse them, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristi N. O’Malley said.
Carraway took advantage of the children and their parents, offering to walk students to school or help with homework to gain access to them, O’Malley said. When the children would not comply with Carraway’s instructions, he threatened to call 911 or to tell their families about their conduct.
“Carraway not only robbed these children of their innocence,” O’Malley said, “he robbed these families of their faith in humanity.”
In one incident inside the band room of the elementary school, Carraway is heard on video instructing a boy and girl to perform explicit acts, federal prosecutors said. In another incident, prosecutors said, Carraway took advantage of a special-needs child.
Carraway’s federal public defender, John Chamble, said his client has an IQ of 60 and was abused in an educational setting as a child. Chamble said Carraway became part of a cycle of abuse in which victims go on to victimize others.
Chamble likened Carraway to the character of Lennie in the John Steinbeck novel “Of Mice and Men.”
“He’s done some monstrous things, but he is not a monster,” Chamble said. “He’s trapped. He’s confused.”
Police discovered the abuse after an uncle checking a student’s cellphone discovered inappropriate photos and contacted authorities.
The arrest of Carraway in February 2016 enraged the school community at Sylvania Woods, with parents questioning how Carraway was allowed to be unsupervised with the children long enough to film them on campus during the school day. The school system launched a task force after his arrest to review how it handles reports of child sex abuse and recommended sweeping changes to keep students safer.
“We’ve been taking serious steps to put new safeguards in place to protect children, even from people who have no prior criminal history,” said John White, a spokesman for Prince George’s County Public Schools.
Carraway’s trial in Prince George’s County Circuit Court is pending, as are at least nine civil suits and one class-action lawsuit filed by families of the affected children against Carraway, the school system and Glenarden.
“The court issued an appropriately strong sentence today,” said Timothy F. Maloney, an attorney representing several of the families suing Carraway and the school system. “Deonte Carraway will spend the rest of his life in federal prison. But of course no sentence can ever make up for the harm to these children and their families.”
A few parents of the children who were abused attended the hearing, but none addressed the court publicly.
After the hearing, a great-grandfather of one of the children said Carraway should have gotten 100 years in prison.
The great-grandfather is not being named to protect the identity of the child. The Washington Post does not usually identify individuals in sexual assaults without their agreement.
“He ruined their lives,” said the great-grandfather. “He shouldn’t be allowed to be out here.”