"This ruined my life," said one teenage victim, who was not identified in court or in charging documents. "It shouldn't have happened."
McDougal, 56, who sobbed as he addressed the court Friday, pleaded guilty in June to one count of production of child pornography.
He admitted in a plea statement that between January and November of 2011, he adopted the persona of 17-year-old "James Zupo Marsden" and, using an email account, coerced three minors to engage in sexually explicit conduct and send him photos.
"I have been taught the difference between right and wrong and I know that difference; I know that I am wrong," said McDougal, as he wiped his eyes and breathed deep. "This must have been really, really hard for [the victims] and I know it will be a continuing problem for them for years. Maybe even the rest of their life. I'm sorry that has happened. And I ask that they forgive me."
In exchange for McDougal's plea, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah agreed to drop a second count that alleged he coerced and enticed minors to engage in illegal sexual activity.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Dain had asked that McDougal be sentenced to 25 years in prison just five short of the maximum allowed for this crime.
But U.S. District Judge David Nuffer said sentencing this man to, in essence, die in prison seemed harsh.
"I try to look at the defendant's expected lifespan and essentially a 25 year sentence is a life sentence," Nuffer said. "These are the kind of cases that keep us awake at night for a long time."
According to court documents, McDougal claimed to be a boy who had moved from West Jordan to Idaho.
He began corresponding with a teenage girl via Facebook and email. After some months, the girl sent McDougal nude photos taken with her cellphone at his request.
A local church leader contacted the Utah Department of Child and Family Services in May 2011 to report that an anonymous person had seen child pornography on McDougal's home computer.
In an interview with police, McDougal also admitted to setting up a "nanny cam" in places where juveniles changed clothing or were nude, according to court documents. Investigators later found video and images of a minor in various stages of undress on McDougal's home computer as well as sexually explicit images of a teenage girl.
A second computer taken from McDougal's private office at the funeral home provided evidence he had transferred several hundred nude photos of minors on his cell phone and thumb drives. Through that data, investigators identified a third victim.
"His offense is very cyclic: He downloads, he feels bad, he deletes, he goes back and does it again," Dain said. "This could continue. ... Mr. McDougal is a dangerous individual and he is a danger to this community."
The victims in this case were identified only by number. The father of victim 3, with whom the defendant communicated via email, spoke on behalf of his daughter at Friday's hearing.
"I'm here to give voice to my daughter, who was one of the victims of this deceitful and despicable thing that this man did," said the man. "This is something that, in my opinion, could go on later, could affect other people."
According to prosecutors, after soliciting explicit images from the two girls with whom McDougal had a fake online relationship, the defendant pretended to be the fake 17-year-old's father and told them that the boy had died in a car crash.
"A young lady thinks that her boyfriend is deceased because of this," Dain said. "These girls were exploited to the highest degree."
Defense attorney Ron Yengich, who asked that his client be sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 15 years in prison, said the true tragedy of the case would be if the victims did not get help to move past what they had been through.
"This man is going to prison. But if they want help, it's out there for them and I would encourage them to get it because their lives do not have to be ruined," Yengich said. "There is no excuse for what he did and he says this isn't the devil; it's him. He acknowledges that this is not only criminal but, in his belief, very sinful behavior for which there can't be, never will and no one will ever give an excuse for."
Restitution, which would go toward counselling and therapy for all victims, will be determined no later than December.
McDougal was also ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.