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Former teacher enters Alford plea in molestation case (Update with details)

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- Shawn Baxley, the former Bible studies, geometry teacher and track coach at Sherwood Christian Academy, will spend the next two years in prison and an additional 18 years on probation after making an Alford plea Monday to molesting a female relative.

Named for a North Carolina case, an Alford plea allows a defendant to plead guilty to a charge without admitting wrongdoing when they believe it is in their best interest not to risk a more extensive punishment if found guilty before a jury.

In addition to the prison time, Chief Superior Court Judge Willie Lockette ordered Baxley to surrender his teaching license and to register as a sex offender. Lockette also banished Baxley from Dougherty and surrounding counties.

Baxley was charged with and indicted for child molestation and sexual battery on a minor for a 2008 incident in which a female relative, who was 13 years old at the time, accused him of fondling her, Chief Assistant District Attorney Heather Lanier said in court Monday.

In exchange for a plea on the child molestation charge, the district attorney's office agreed to drop the sexual battery charge. On the table going into Monday's meeting was a suggested five-year maximum to serve in prison with 15 years on probation.

That five-year term -- a mandatory minimum sentence recommendation under Georgia law -- was reduced by Lockette, who said he felt the other conditions of Baxley's probation mitigated the three additional years in prison.

Brought by the Dougherty County Sheriff's Office, investigators say the charges had nothing to do with Baxley's official capacity as a teacher and were believed to have happened at a residence off Whispering Pines Road.

During a statement to the court, Baxley apologized to the victim and his family.

"My intention was never to hurt anyone -- (the victim), my wife, my family -- all of them have been victims throughout this whole situation," Baxley said. "I ask you for your best judgment, and I pray that I'll be able to make up for my mistakes."

Four people took the stand Monday to testify on Baxley's behalf, including the former chairman of the Grady County Board of Education, Todd Gainous, who testified that he had never had any reason to question Baxley's character.