Hayes chides DA Ballard for child predator sentences

Tue, 07/08/2008 - 3:27pm
By: John Munford

Ballard: Office ‘aggressively prosecutes’ the crime

Tyrone attorney Rudjard Hayes, running for district attorney, is criticizing his opponent for being too lenient on sentences to defendants who have pleaded guilty to Internet pornography and child exploitation charges.

Hayes, in a news release issued Monday, noted that defendants in 11 of the 18 Internet pornography/child exploitation cases avoided prison and were instead sentenced to between 60 and 120 days in a diversion center along with a small fine and probation.

Incumbent District Attorney Scott Ballard says his office sought those sentences on the first cases because he feared the parole board would release the defendants after serving just a fraction of their prison sentence. He also said the 10 years on probation each defendant received was significant because it allowed them to be tracked and restricted their access to children and computers.

Ballard said his office began to seek a minimum of three years prison time and seven years probation in all such cases after he learned the parole board would require those defendants to serve at least half of their sentence in prison.

In some cases, defendants sentenced here for other crimes such as burglary, theft or drug possession are released after serving eight months of their 10-year sentence, Ballard said.

“We knew at a diversion and detention center they’d serve every day of what they were given,” Ballard said.

Not all of the 18 defendants avoided jail, however, as four pled guilty and were sentenced to prison while another three went to trial and were found guilty and sentenced to prison.

Hayes, however, contends all of the defendants should have received prison time from the inception of the cases.

All of the cases Hayes is questioning have involved undercover operations conducted by the Peachtree City Police Department.

Most of the defendants were arrested after they proposed an illicit tryst via the Internet with an undercover officer who they thought was a minor. In some of the cases, the defendants actually traveled to Peachtree City, thinking they were going to meet with the girl, and instead they were arrested on the spot by police officers.

Ballard noted that the crime is relatively new, and police and prosecutors are breaking new ground by bringing the cases forward.

“Allowing 11 accused Internet child predators to plead guilty with no prison time is not being tough on child predators,” Hayes said. “The fact of the matter is that some of these accused predators are out walking the streets today because our District Attorney Scott Ballard failed to take these cases seriously.”

Ballard responded strongly to Hayes’ allegations Tuesday morning.

“If there is a single pervert who thinks after reading the information spread by Mr. Hayes that we will not aggressively prosecute this crime, then they’ll find out to the contrary,” Ballard said. “But I hope for the sake of our children nobody believes that.”

At the detention centers, the defendants were allowed to be “out during the day and report to the center in the evening,” Hayes said.

Even under the diversion center sentences, defendants’ access to computers and children was heavily restricted and monitored, Ballard said.

Ballard said his office’s intent has always been to protect children and he thinks they’ve done a good job of that.

In the press release, Hayes also accused Ballard’s office of having one Internet pornography sentence overturned because of a faulty indictment.

Ballard said the indictment was executed and drafted correctly but the Georgia Court of Appeals instead disagreed with the way the statute was written, resulting in the overturning of the verdict.

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