WAYNESBORO, Ga. --- The father of 11 children found living in a shack without food, running water or electricity pleaded guilty Wednesday.
Jeremy Long, 38, admitted in Burke County Superior Court that he was guilty of five counts of second-degree cruelty to children and four counts of failure to educate.
Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. accepted the plea deal for three years in prison followed by 10 years on probation.
Mr. Long has been in jail, unable to make bond, since his arrest last July 31, when law enforcement officers found his children and wife, Christine, living in squalor.
Assistant District Attorney Kristi Connell said Wednesday that the children were victims of the worst neglect anyone in her office has ever heard about or seen.
When found, the children ranged in age from 1 to 18. The four-room shack had no food and no beds for the children, who had no proper clothes or shoes.
Two of the children had never worn shoes. None had been vaccinated or given dental care, and the younger children suffered from malnutrition.
The children never attended school, nor did they receive home-schooling, Ms. Connell said. The teens are just now learning to read, she said.
As bad as the neglect was, Ms. Connell said, there is no evidence of any sexual or physical abuse, despite what Mrs. Long claims.
Mrs. Long, who faces the same neglect charges, has pleaded not guilty. She is free on bond pending trial. In her complaint for divorce, she blamed the neglect on Mr. Long.
Ms. Connell said prosecutors were willing to negotiate a short prison term for Mr. Long because he was taking responsibility for the children's neglect. He understood that the plea would spare the children the experience of testifying in court and being forced to take one parent's side, Ms. Connell said.
Assistant Public Defender Alexia Davis said Mr. Long tried to provide for his family, but there were periods when he could not earn enough money and he didn't believe in taking public assistance.
Mr. Long was home-schooled and thought it would be better than public schools for his children, Ms. Davis said. His wife was supposed to be in charge of the schooling, Ms. Davis said.
Under conditions set by Judge Blanchard, if Mr. Long regains custody of the children, he must remain in the Augusta Judicial Circuit area while on probation. He must also perform 100 hours of community service.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.