Editor’s note: This story contains graphic content that some readers might find objectionable.

A Shelby County man who federal prosecutors are calling the “Dark Web Cannibal” after he posted an online ad seeking to abuse, kill and eat a child, will spend 40 years in federal prison for child exploitation violations.

Alexander Nathan Barter, 23, of Joaquin, was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge Michael Turncale, more than two years after he posted an ad saying he wanted to “see how it feels to take a life.”

“As this chilling case demonstrates, online talk is not always just talk. The constant vigilance of our law enforcement partners has prevented an evildoer from finding a likeminded accomplice and bringing his grisly plan to fruition,” U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Cox said in a statement. “This case is a sobering reminder of how the brave men and women of law enforcement face down the worst of the worst in the scariest of scenarios.”

Barter pleaded guilty in late 2019, though the plea was not certified until January. As part of that deal, he admitted that he posted the ad on the dark web seeking to kill and eat a child. The dark web is a part of the internet hosted within an encrypted network. It is frequently linked to illegal activity.

In the ad, Barter wrote that he would like to molest, kill and eat a child. An undercover Homeland Security investigator in Florida responded, claiming to have similar interests. The agent told Barter that he was the father of a 13-year-old daughter and the two arranged to meet Oct. 19, 2018, in Joaquin.

“In my 23-year-career in law enforcement, this is among the most morally depraved and appalling criminal conspiracies that I have come across,” said Mark Dawson, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigation in Houston. “Without the quick and decisive actions of special agents” from Cocoa Beach, Florida, and Beaumont “this disturbed predator would still be out there looking for potential victims to carry out his sick and demented fantasies.”

The plea brings to an end more than two-years of stops and starts in the federal case against Barter. Legal proceedings first came to a halt in November 2018 when a judge order a psychiatric evaluation.

The case was delayed again in June 2019 and once more in September 2019 as plea negotiations continued and prosecutors found new sentencing guidelines. Defense attorney John D. McElroy noted in several court filings leading up to the final plea agreement that was reached in December and agreed to in January that he and federal prosecutors had been working on a deal for months.

Sentencing was also delayed multiple times.

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