A Canberra teenager who extorted gay men he targeted on a hook-up app has at most a year to show why he should not go to prison, after a magistrate deferred his sentence.
The 16-year-old, who cannot be named because of his age, pleaded guilty to blackmail after creating a profile on Grindr and arranging to meet with the victim in public, where he revealed his age (then 15), demanded cash and threaten to "out" him as a sex offender.
On Monday the teen faced a sentencing hearing in the ACT Children's Court where defence solicitor Paul Edmonds argued for leniency, citing his youth and his efforts so far at meeting bail conditions, including attending school.
The boy had expressed remorse, and while he had had "warped thinking" that conflated homosexuality and paedophilia he now understood that was wrong, he said.
He said the boy was motivated by need, in that he needed the money to buy food as his mentally unwell mother had been unable to care for him throughout his childhood.
But prosecutors said the boy was motivated by greed, describing the crime as deliberate, sinister and cruel.
Prosecutor Sara Gul described as "disturbing in the extreme" an image found in the teen's possession in which his head was superimposed onto a picture of Jesus Christ.
The image, one of several found by police in the investigation, also put the head of his victim in Jesus' hand.
Another image uncovered in his possession was of his victim's face with the word "Homo" scrawled across it.
Ms Gul said the teen had harassed his victim for more than two weeks over text messages, and had gone to the man's home and taken pictures of him.
"You know I'm going to take your life, call me God," one message he had sent to the victim said.
Ms Gul said the teenager appeared to take pleasure in the power he was exerting over his victim, and that his behaviour had gone "beyond youthful folly".
She told the court the victim had been forced to pick up extra shifts at work for money to pay the extortionists.
The teenager was given a lifeline on Monday when the sentencing magistrate said she would defer his sentence.
"If I was going to sentence you now you'd be going to prison," Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker said, but added she had heard enough to believe there was some prospect of the boy proving himself and avoiding time in custody.
"You're probably sick of people saying you've had a rough upbringing," she told him. The boy nodded.
"[But] as awful as what has happened, it doesn't necessarily have to be your future."
She noted the progress he had made in attending school regularly, and the support he had from his older sister, with whom he now lived.
She also said the court would be helped by more information on the teen's mental health in the meantime.
The chief magistrate deferred his sentence for one year, on the condition he abide by a set of rules that included attending school and living where directed.
He is also not to contact the others involved in the scam.
Police had arrested four teenagers in February this year after investigating a series of extortions of gay men, including one linked to a man's suicide.
All four have pleaded guilty. One teenager was sentenced to 19 months jail, with six months to be served full time.
One was handed a four-month suspended term. The fourth, who is 18, will be sentenced at a later date.
This case will return to court for review in October.