former Atlanta schools employees convicted in a test-cheating scandal to
prison Tuesday, reserving the harshest penalties for those who refused
to reach sentencing agreements with the district attorney.
Almost all the defendants will spend time behind bars, a reality that
hit home hard for some in the courtroom. Audible crying and sobbing
could be heard as Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter handed down the
first of the sentences.
But the judge, often visibly irritated during the sentencing, said it all could have been avoided. Before recessing court Monday, Baxter urged the defense attorneys in the case to hammer out deals with the
district attorney. That didn't happen.
"I said to everybody, 'This is the time to search your soul,'" Baxter said. "Nobody has taken any responsibility that I can see. I was trying to give everybody one more chance. All I want from these people is for somebody
to take responsibility."
The former educators were convicted of falsifying test results to collect bonuses or keep their jobs. In all, 35 educators were indicted in 2013 on charges including racketeering, making false statements and theft. The 12 who chose to take the case to trial faced up to 20 years in prison because they were convicted of violating Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, a statute typically reserved for those involved in organized
One defendant, who was pregnant when she was convicted, will be
sentenced in August. One of the 12 defendants was acquitted of all
Baxter often snapped at and cut off the statements of defense lawyers
making last-minutes cases for lenient sentencing for their clients.
Expressing little pity for the convicted educators, Baxter told one
defense attorney that some of the real victims of the Atlanta cheating
scandal were children who were passed through the school system because
of falsified test scores and landed behind bars, in part, because of
educators the public placed their trust in.
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