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Molester pleads guilty, gets 10 years probation
Defense attorney Nathaniel Merritt sits next to his client, Dawnetta Rice, in Liberty County Superior Court on Thursday morning. - photo by Phgoto by Patty Leon
A 48-year-old Hinesville woman accused of molesting an 8-year-old relative entered a guilty plea before Liberty County Superior Court Judge D. Jay Stewart and received a 10-year probated sentence Thursday.
Dawnetta Rice faced one count of child molestation/aggravated sodomy and two counts of child molestation for allegedly molesting the girl at Rice’s Varnedoe Street residence in July 2006.
“I think it’s a good result for everybody, the state and the defendant,” defense attorney Nathaniel Merritt said after the hearing. “Of course she entered the plea pursuant to Alford vs. North Carolina, which allows her to plead guilty but yet maintain her innocence because she believes it’s in her best interest to resolve the case and enter this type of plea.”
Under the plea agreement, the count of aggravated sodomy was reduced to child molestation and the other two counts of
molestation would not be prosecuted. Her attorneys also requested she be recorded as a first offender. As a first offender, Rice will not have a conviction record if she completes her 10 years of probation.
According to Atlantic Judicial Circuit assistant district attorney John Hope, a Hinesville police officer was dispatched to the emergency room regarding an alleged child molestation July 22, 2006.
The officer spoke to the mother of the 8-year-old victim who alleged Rice sexually molested the girl in the swimming pool of their home while she and her husband were out running errands. The acts supposedly were witnessed by the girl’s cousin and 5-year-old sister. The incident reportedly took place while Rice was severely intoxicated.
Rice, who suffers from several medical conditions, including dementia and Parkinson’s disease, sat quietly by her attorney with her husband at her side as she listened to Stewart hand down the sentence. A remorseful looking Rice hugged her attorney after the sentencing and told Stewart that Merritt is a great man.
“Again, she denies the allegations. She denies the events occurred,” Merritt said. “She desires to conclude the case and the law does allow her to enter this type of plea.”
Hope said the state had no objection to the defendant’s request to enter the plea pursuant to Alford vs. North Carolina saying, “As far as I know she has no prior record and this does appear to be totally a product of intoxication. The child is now living in Oklahoma or somewhere far away.”
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