Georgia's district attorneys are anxiously awaiting an appeal to the state Supreme Court for the justices to rethink their ruling in the Marcus Dixon case.
The Rome judicial circuit is leading the appeal. Dixon was convicted of aggravated child molestation -- but acquitted of rape -- involving sex with a 15-year-old girl in a Rome classroom. Georgia's Supreme Court, on a 4-3 vote, turned him loose from a mandatory minimum 10-year sentence on the aggravated child molestation charge.
Augusta District Attorney Danny Craig says the District Attorneys Associa-tion of Georgia met last week to talk about the case, and while individual DAs are signing on to the appeal, the DAAG isn't joining as a group.
DAs are more concerned about "statutory loopholes" written into the law by the Georgia Legislature as it tried to get tough on sexual offenses, Craig says.
It wasn't a loophole that snared Thryshaun McCladdie here, however. The former Greenbrier High student is now appealing his sentence for child molestation involving a fellow student in a classroom. Unlike Dixon, McCladdie pleaded guilty. And unlike Dixon, McCladdie got the maximum sentence: Judge Albert Pickett sent McCladdie to the slammer for 21 years.
That was what the much-broadcast wailing from McCladdie's mother was all about; the criminal world has come to expect a lighter sentence with a guilty plea. But in most cases judges still impose the sentence they believe is justified.
Now, McCladdie has a new attorney and is appealing his case, saying the first lawyer was inadequate. Betcha he wouldn't be saying that if Pickett had just given him a slap on the wrist.
Whatever the outcome, McCladdie won't win any popularity contests. His thick record cements his reputation as a bully and a thug who should have long before been tossed out of school.
School officials, however, often feel their hands are tied in such cases, especially when some sort of disability is involved. This includes the widening and largely bogus epidemic of ADD/ADHD, and my personal favorite, ODD -- Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Oh, brother.
U.S. Sen. Zell Miller, who unfortunately isn't running for re-election or for president, is tackling this problem. Last week he introduced the "Fairness in School Discipline Act" and the "Restoring Authority to Schools Act of 2004," two bills that he says are "designed to put teachers and principals back in charge when it comes to suspending unruly students."
Any action to help put teachers and principals back in control would help -- especially if it gives the boot to punks like McCladdie.
Sadly, McCladdie's case just shows we haven't learned much from history.
It was 11 years ago that Edward Bryant Gillom pulled out a gun in a Harlem High School hallway and shot two other students, one fatally.
At his trial Gillom's defense centered around his complaints that the other boys had been bullying him unmercifully, and that school officials weren't protecting him. He was acquitted of all charges except one: possessing a gun on school property.
Gillom received the maximum five-year sentence -- from Judge Albert Pickett, who lashed out at the school system for failing to protect Gillom from one of the boys, whom he called a "terrorist."
By putting away McCladdie for 21 years, at least another "terrorist" is out of the school system. How many more are just a summer vacation away from returning to class next year, protected by complex federal laws and a weak-kneed Supreme Court?
Incidentally, Gillom's name comes up again not just because of the coincidence of Pickett's involvement, but because the now-26-year-old went to the hospital last week -- after getting shot during an argument with a Thomson man.
What goes around, comes around.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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