SW Va. man sentenced to 27 years for sexual exploitation of minors

Hunter Royal
Hunter Royal

ABINGDON, Va. — A southwestern Virginia man will spend more time in prison than he has been alive, after pleading guilty to sexually exploiting children via Snapchat.

Hunter Royal, 23, of Marion, was sentenced to 27 years in prison when he appeared Abingdon federal court Wednesday morning.

Royal admitted to scaring and shaming girls as young as 12 to send him sexually explicit photos.

Prosecutors say his pattern was to pretend to be a young girl to talk to actual girls and gain their trust. He would eventually steer the conversation toward sexual topics and convince the girls to send sexually explicit pictures. He would then use those pictures to blackmail the girls into sending more pictures.

Because of the temporary nature of Snapchat messages, authorities could only verify that Royal had received pictures from 11 girls, but those pictures numbered in the hundreds.

Prosecutors say the investigation revealed Royal contacted about 1,500 people on Snapchat in 2018 and 2019, and about 250 of those were girls between the ages of 12 and 17.