Habersham couple pleads, sentenced in child molestation case

Date: 2015-05-19

CLARKESVILLE - Habersham County Superior Court on Monday disposed of child cruelty charges against a Habersham County couple.

In a negotiated plea, Richard Scott Burton was sentenced to 10 years each after pleading guilty to four counts second-degree cruelty to children. The sentences will be served concurrently.

The first 25 weekends of the sentence must be served in confinement at the Habersham County Detention Center, with the balance of the sentence served on felony probation.

Two counts of aggravated child molestation, one count of child molestation, and 24 counts of first-degree cruelty to children against Richard Burton were nolle prossed, meaning they will not be pursued for prosecution.

Cheryle Lynn Burton entered a guilty plea to four counts of second-degree cruelty to children.

She was sentenced to 10 years for each, to be served concurrently. The first 25 weekends of the sentence are to be served in confinement at the Habersham County Detention Center, with the balance to be served on felony probation.

Nineteen additional charges of first-degree cruelty to children against Cheryle Burton were nolle prossed.

The plea was entered before Mountain Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Chan Caudell on Monday, with the sentence handed down the same day.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Eddie Staples said the plea occurred Monday morning, when the trial was set to begin.

"I did not know that they would make any admission at all, so it kind of all came up in the morning while the jury was having their roll call," Staples said.

Staples believes the pleas are positive for the victims, even though they are to lesser charges.

"The reason is it provides finality and admission of wrongdoing that I think is beneficial for the children involved without them having to go through trial discussing their life in public," Staples said.

Staples said had a plea not been negotiated and had Caudell not accepted it, the jury trial would have been lengthy.

"It would have gone well into next week," Staples said.

Staples believes that trial would have been disruptive to the children, who are moving on with rebuilding their lives.

"Those children have been adopted into a new family and, based on my meetings with them, they are returning back to normal," Staples said.

Staples stressed that the defendants were not granted first offender status in the plea.

"They asked for it, the judge didn't grant it and I certainly was not willing to agree to it," Staples said. "These are not first offender, these are convictions with an admission of guilt under oath before a judge in court."

Richard Burton was represented by appointed Public Defender Drew Powell.

Cheryle Burton was represented by appointed attorney Elizabeth Pendleton.

Tuesday morning, Caudell entered an amendment to the sentences of both Cheryle Burton and Richard Burton.

"The State requested a fine, but left the amount to the Court's discretion," Caudell's order states. "The Defendant requested no fine or a minimum fine."

Caudell imposed the same fine for each of the Burtons.

"In pronouncing its sentence, this Court failed to address the issue of the fine," Caudell's order states. "This Court, in exercising its sentencing authority and discretion, believes it is in the best interest of justice to levy a $10,000 fine against Defendant. Defendant's sentence shall be amended."

The Burtons begin serving their weekend incarcerations at 6 p.m. this Friday.

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