Originally created 05/26/06

Ex-substitute sentenced



Billy Fray Cleveland walked out of a Columbia County courtroom Thursday morning into a crowded lobby of family and friends waiting to hug and congratulate him.

The former Columbia County substitute teacher charged in August with child molestation pleaded guilty Thursday to misdemeanor simple battery as part of a negotiated plea agreement with the district attorney's office.

"I don't really know how to say it," Mr. Cleveland said about the plea agreement, adding that he has mixed feelings but is very happy the case against him has concluded.

Mr. Cleveland, 68, pleaded guilty to three counts of simple battery at the sentencing hearing.

Superior Court Chief Judge William M. Fleming Jr. sentenced him to two years' probation and fined him a combined $2,250.

"It's a good resolution," said Mr. Cleveland's attorney, J. Tom Morgan, after the hearing. "It's an appropriate resolution to this case."

Mr. Cleveland, of Augusta, was indicted on eight counts of child molestation in August. He was arrested Aug. 1 and released on bond after being accused of inappropriately touching eight girls younger than 16 between May 3 and May 17, 2005, while he worked as a substitute teacher at Brookwood and Riverside elementary schools.

As part of the plea agreement, Mr. Cleveland, who is retired, agreed not to substitute teach again.

Assistant District Attorney Ashley Wright said it was a smart choice for Mr. Cleveland to accept the plea agreement.

"We believe we would have some problems with proof," Ms. Wright said during the hearing. "However, we believe that based on the totality of the circumstances, the possibilities and the probabilities, that the defendant (Mr. Cleveland) would have been convicted of something on trial."

Reach Valerie Rowell at 868-1222, ext. 110, or valerie.rowell@augustachronicle.com.