Judge Jerry Baxter dealt out harsh sentences for educators convicted in one of the country's largest cheating scandals. Despite the judge's pointed convictions during the trial, he offered the defendants a plea deal before sentencing. Most did not accept and will soon be serving years in prison as a result.
According to CNN, the courtroom was a raucous scene. Outside, protestors gathered to try to free 11 of the convicted educators.
The charges ranged from inflating test scores to racketeering. The prosecutors showed that teachers, principals, and testing coordinators inflated test scores in struggling middle and elementary schools. Sometimes they cheated to earn bonuses or promotions, other times out of pride, and in some situations to save their jobs.
As the defendants lined up and received their sentences, sparks flew. Many of the educators still refused to admit guilt despite the evidence against them. The judge raised his voice a number of times.
"There were thousands of children that were harmed in this thing. It's like the sickest thing that's ever happened to this town."At times, the defense attorneys shouted back, insisting that jail time was going too far for the nonviolent offenders. One attorney even threatened to recuse the judge; Baxter answered back by saying he could send the attorney to jail as well.
The judge said that thousands of children were harmed because of the cheating scandal, at one point saying "these stories are incredible. These kids can't read."
"Everybody starts crying about these educators. This was not a victimless crime that occurred in this city!"Reuters reported that cheating scandals have hit 40 states and the District of Columbia, but people rarely face jail time.
Out of the 11 defendants who refused the plea deal, three were given 20-year sentences: seven years to be served in jail, the rest of the time on probation. The other eight defendants received sentences ranging from two to five years.
Two accepted the plea deals. Testing coordinator Donald Bullock received five years of probation and six months worth of weekends in jail, along with fines and 1,500 hours of community service. The other, teacher Pamela Cleveland, will serve one year of home confinement, pay a $1,000 fine and do 1,000 hours of community service.
As part of the plea bargain, the educators had to admit their guilt and wave their right to appeal the ruling.
The full list of the convicted educators and the details of their sentences can be found here on Fox10tv.
A number of people found the judge's jail-time sentences too harsh.
Community activist Derek Boazman told Fox10tv both the length of the sentences and the charges of racketeering were wrong.
"At the end of the day we've seen murderers, child molesters, rapists not get this kind of sentence in this very courthouse."Bernice King, daughter of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., wrote to the judge asking him to reconsider jail time before the sentencing. She said that in the end the sentences seemed "stiff" considering the defendants were nonviolent, but noted that they could have avoided real prison time with the plea deals.
King will head a nonprofit academy to offer remedial services to the students who suffered from the cheating scandal.
Many of the educators indicated they would appeal their jail time.
[Image Credit: Getty Images]