A former Billings high school coach and teacher who downloaded hundreds of images of child pornography will spend a decade in federal prison.
Scott Nichols, 42, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Billings to 10 years in prison, followed by 15 years of supervised release, for five felony charges related to child pornography.
Several former colleagues of Nichols, who was fired from his position as West High’s head basketball coach, wrote letters of support to the judge to consider at sentencing.
Before Judge Susan Watters imposed sentencing, Nichols read a written statement expressing how sorry he was for letting everyone down.
“I tried to live my life the right way, but unfortunately, there’s a small part of my life I didn’t do the right way,” Nichols said.
Nichols was reprimanded for drinking alcohol during his pre-sentence release, which he was prohibited from doing.
Mike Sullivan, a social worker who specializes in sexual abuse, testified that Nichols tests high for interest in adolescent girls.
Sullivan also said Nichols would be in great need for supervision once he is released back into the community.
Nichols expressed a history of depression and addictive personality disorders to Sullivan in his consultations.
In defense of her lesser sentence, Watters said that Nichols would be more greatly affected by his time in prison because he had never been incarcerated before.
“With the exception of your deviant behavior and addiction, you are not like many people walking down the street,” said Watters. “You are educated and you’ve never spent a day incarcerated. So I imagine this will have a greater affect on you.”
Watters noted that Nichols waived his right to appeal the sentencing in his plea agreement and will also have to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence behind bars.
Prosecutors argued for a sentence of 235 months in prison, stating that Nichols’ actions as a teacher had forever tarnished the reputation of male teachers and coaches.
“This case is different, this man was a teacher,” said Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Ole Olson. “Now, because of this, every time a parent puts their daughter in the hands of a male teacher or coach, they are going to be a little more suspicious.”
Jay Lansing, Nichols’ attorney, said Nichols did not deserve a stricter sentence simply because he was a teacher.
Lansing compared Nichols’ case to several notable cases involving Billings defendants, including Brad Johnson, Ronald Brown, and Steven Currence, the man recently sentenced for attempting to traffic women for use as sex slaves.
Federal courts use a point system to create sentencing guidelines for defendants, including criminal history, admittance of guilt, and use of a weapon.
Lansing said Nichols’ total points exceeded even that of a defendant who committed second degree murder.
Nichols did not necessarily commit a “hands-on” offense, the judge agreed, because he did not physically abuse a child.
An investigation revealed that Nichols was using his school computer to download child pornography and had also solicited naked images of young girls.
Watters ordered Nichols to enter sex offender treatment while in prison, as well as substance abuse treatment.
Nichols will likely serve his time in a Colorado federal prison.