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Convicted Educators, Supporters Plead for Leniency in Atlanta Cheating Scandal

After nearly four hours of testimony from family, friends and colleagues, the fate of 10 of the former educators convicted in the Atlanta test-cheating case remains uncertain.

Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter was scheduled today to sentence 10 of the 11 defendants convicted of racketeering for their roles in a scheme to artificially boost students' scores on standardized tests. The former educators were convicted earlier this month.

Before taking a lunch break late this afternoon, Baxter urged defense attorneys to forge agreements on sentencing with the district attorney to avoid state prison time for their clients.

Reaching sentencing deals, would "be the best thing for our community and our schools," Baxter said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has details on the deals the district attorney has offered.

The former educators were convicted of falsifying test results to collect bonuses or keep their jobs. Thirty-five educators were indicted in 2013 on charges including racketeering, making false statements and theft. Many took plea deals while 12 chose to take the case to trial.

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

The convicted former employees face up to 20 years in prison because they were found guilty of violating Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Dozens of character witnesses spoke on their behalf today, pleading with Baxter to show compassion during sentencing. Based on Baxter's statements during testimony today, the convicted educators will not face the maximum penalty.

"I'm not giving these folks 20 years," Baxter told one defense attorney. But he later added that: "I've got the fair sentence in my mind. It involves going to jail ... everybody."

During an exchange with Andrew Young, a former Atlanta mayor and U.N. Ambassador who requested leniency for the former educators, Baxter made clear that they will face time behind bars if he sentences them.

"There's more to this than 'Let's just forget about it and move on,'" Baxter said.

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