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Judge Slashes Sentences of Three Convicted in Atlanta Test-Cheating Scandal

atlanta-reduced-sentence-500px.jpgThe judge in the Atlanta schools test-cheating scandal reduced the sentences of three convicted administrators Thursday, making the case that he wanted his ruling to be considered "fair."

Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter sentenced former school administrators Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis-Williams, and Michael Pitts, to 10 years in prison, three to be served behind bars and seven on probation, and ordered each to pay a $10,000 fine.

The three were originally each given 20-year sentences—seven to serve in prison and 13 on probation, and $25,000 fines. Cotman, Davis-Williams, and Pitts were among the educators convicted under Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act on April 1.

Judge Baxter told the former educators and their lawyers that the sentences he handed down April 14 were too harsh.

"I want to modify the sentence so I can live with it," Baxter said.

Cotman, Davis-Williams, and Pitts must still serve 2,000 hours of community service, which was part of their original sentence. Baxter recommended the trio immediately begin their community service, which must be spent tutoring inmates and children. All three remain free on bond while their attorneys begin the appeals process.

When sentencing the educators in mid-April, Baxter reserved the harshest penalties for those who refused to reach sentencing agreements with the district attorney.

The former educators were convicted of falsifying test results to collect bonuses or keep their jobs. In all, 35 educators were indicted in 2013 on charges including racketeering, making false statements and theft.

The 12 who chose to take the case to trial faced a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison because they were convicted of violating the RICO Act, a statute typically reserved for those involved in organized crime.

One defendant, who was pregnant when she was convicted, will be sentenced in August. One of the 12 defendants was acquitted of all charges.

Most of the attorneys said their clients turned down the sentencing deals because they would have to renounce their right to appeal and admit guilt.

Left: Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter describes how Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis-Williams, and Michael Pitts, three former Atlanta district administrators, were at the top of the food chain in the district's test-cheating scandal during their first sentencing hearing on April 14. He sentenced each of them to serve seven years in prison and 13 years probation, along with steep fines and community service. -Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Right: Judge Baxter holds a re-sentencing hearing in Fulton County Superior Court on April 30 to reduce the sentences for Cotman, Davis-Williams, and Pitts. Each was given three years in prison and seven on probation. They were also fined and sentenced to community service. -Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

                                                                                                                                                                                                        

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