Billy Cleveland case could end on plea bargain

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He was accused of child molestation, a charge that could lock the former Columbia County substitute teacher up for twenty years.

But a deal with the court may keep him out of jail.

Billy Cleveland was indicted on eight counts of felony child molestation in August 2005. His trial was scheduled to begin April 25.

Instead, Cleveland agreed to plead guilty to the much lesser charge of battery.

Some who know the teacher say the deal is still too much. Some parents say it's not enough.

About nine months ago the former substitute pleaded not guilty to touching female students at Riverside and Brookwood elementary schools. All the students were under the age of 16.

"We're trying to protect our children...we could care less about right and wrong and the laws. We just want to make sure our children are taken care of," says parent Jimmy Hevvard.

Instead of facing the child molestation charges, which could mean twenty years in jail and having to register as a sex offender, Cleveland could now face three counts of battery--a misdemeanor, with a maximum of one year in jail.

Cleveland's next-door neighbor and longtime friend Marie Killips says that is still too stiff, and the charges should be dropped.

"It's a sad state of affairs when a teacher can't hug a child," Killips says.

Cleveland was originally accused of more than hugging.

Capt. Steve Morris of the Columbia County Sheriff's Office says child molestation is an indecent or immoral act involving a child under 16.

"It's also with intent to arouse or satisfy the sexual desires of the accused," Capt. Morris says.

That's what we see on all eight counts of the indictment. Morris says the battery charge means intentionally causing harm to another person.

We went to Cleveland's Augusta home. He said he couldn't comment since the case is still ongoing. But a look at his application to become a substitute teacher shows he finds teaching "a good thing to do" and "rewarding."

"They're devastated...but just very anxious and trusting the Lord to clear him," says Killips.

The case has Hevvard thinking about the safety of his own children, from anyone out there who could cause harm.

"If you were to touch one of my children I would certainly take your life," he says.

The plea agreement still requires approval from the judge.

The district attorney's office says it could happen in the next few weeks.

If the deal is rejected, the case could still go to trial.