An Ohio man has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after writing fictitious stories about torturing and sexually abusing young children.

Brian Dalton, 22, of Columbus, was charged with pandering obscenity involving a minor after his probation officer found a journal with the stories during a routine search of his home. He was on probation from a 1998 pandering conviction involving pornographic photographs of children. 

The 14-page journal contains the names and ages — 10 and 11 — of three children it said were placed in a cage in a basement. It details how the children were sexually molested and tortured. 

Police at first were concerned the stories were real, prosecutors said. However, Dalton said the stories were fictitious, and there was no evidence to the contrary, said Christian Domis, an assistant county prosecutor. 

Still, Dalton was guilty of pandering obscenity because he "did create, reproduce or publish any obscene material that has a minor as one of its participants or portrayed observers," the indictment said. 

"Even without passing it on to anyone else, he committed a felony," Domis said. 

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien called the case a "breakthrough" in the battle against child pornography. 

A civil rights lawyer said he was surprised by the sentence Dalton received Tuesday for his private writings. 

"What you're saying is somebody can't, in essence, confess their fantasy into a personal journal for fear they have socially unacceptable fantasies, then ultimately they end up getting prosecuted," said Benson Wolman, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Ohio. 

Dalton pleaded guilty, and prosecutors, in exchange, dropped a second pandering charge. He would have faced up to 16 years in prison if convicted of both charges. 

"I know what I wrote was disturbing," Dalton told Common Pleas Judge Nodine Miller at his sentencing. "Over the past few months, I looked back at it and realized it was not something I could do. I don't know how I imagined to write anything like that." 

Wolman said he couldn't recall an obscenity case involving "mere words that were not disseminated." Dalton said he never intended anyone else to read the journal. 

"It is just this kind of thing, I think, that is a misapplication of what the law intends," Wolman said. 

"The law hasn't really been challenged and he would have had the opportunity to do that," defense attorney Isabella Dixon said. "But the cost to him is a lot of time in jail to challenge it." 

The contents of the journal were so disturbing that members of a grand jury asked a detective to stop reading after about two pages, Domis said. 

"It was seriously the most disturbing thing I ever read," he said. "There was a woman on the grand jury who was crying." 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.