Originally created 06/12/04

Plea gets man 15-year term



A man whose child molestation conviction and prison sentence were reversed on appeal is headed back to prison.

Johnny Heggs, 64, pleaded guilty in Richmond County Superior Court on Friday to child molestation.

After hearing Judge Albert M. Pickett impose a 15-year prison sentence, Mr. Heggs asked to take back his plea. However, that is not possible once a plea is entered.

Mr. Heggs, who previously served time in prison for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl in Toombs County, insisted he had consensual sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl in Augusta in April 1997.

The victim, however, testified during a 1998 trial that Mr. Heggs raped her.

Over his defense attorney's objection at trial, Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. gave the Richmond County Superior Court jury the options of convicting Mr. Heggs of either rape or child molestation, deeming molestation a lesser offense than rape.

In 2000, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled that Judge Fleming was in error because child molestation is not a lesser offense than rape.

In plea negotiations since the reversal, Mr. Heggs agreed to plead guilty Friday to child molestation - sexual contact between an adult and a child younger than 16.

"A grown man is supposed to understand that and stay away from children," Judge Pickett said Friday.

Noting Mr. Heggs' 1986 conviction, Judge Pickett said, "He's got a thing for young children."

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.