LAWRENCEVILLE - A former Brookwood High School student-athlete jailed on child molestation charges since March has reached a deal with prosecutors that will free him early next year.
John Luke Walker, who turned 18 last month, pleaded guilty last week to three misdemeanor charges after prosecutors said he forced a 14-year-old girl into having sex following a party in February.
Following the plea, a Gwinnett Magistrate Court judge sentenced Walker to a
three-year sentence with the first year spent in jail, meaning he'll be released on probation in early March 2009.
Walker pleaded guilty to statutory rape, reckless conduct and contributing to the delinquency of a minor - all of which are misdemeanors based on the ages of the two people involved, said David Fife, Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney,
Prosecutors agreed to the lesser charges when evidence failed to materialize that the girl with whom Walker had sex suffered physical injuries, Fife said. The victim complained only of "burning" in her groin area for a week after the incident, he said.
Walker faced a mandatory minimum 25 years in prison without parole if convicted of the initial charge of aggravated child molestation, an outcome Fife called "very Draconian" considering the circumstances.
"If you remove the injury, the only option the state has is misdemeanors," Fife said. "There's nothing in between. It's not like you can (prosecute for) child molestation for a few years."
Georgia law states aggravated child molestation can apply to a victim under 16 years old who is injured in the act of intercourse.
By pleading guilty to the misdemeanors, Walker frees himself from having to register as a sex offender upon his release from jail, said his attorney, B.J. Bernstein.
"Overall, I think this is an appropriate resolution," Bernstein said. "In terms of case life, it's pretty timely."
Conditions of Walker's probation stipulate he can't have contact with the juvenile involved and that he must complete alcohol and drug evaluations and treatment.
The misconduct happened Feb. 17 at a home on Fawnbrook Court in Lilburn, where police later found the girl unconscious. Walker, a former backup football player, was reportedly house sitting for the home's owners, who were out of town. The girl accompanied him to the home following a party where numerous underage revelers had been drinking.
Walker pleaded not guilty in June to charges of aggravated child molestation and false statements. An additional count of rape was later dropped.
In court last week, Walker read a letter to the judge stating he should have listened to parents, obeyed curfew and steered clear of alcohol.
"This case is another warning to parents that kids sneak out at night," Bernstein said. "There were a lot of kids at this party; everybody was out without their parents' knowing."
Walker has remained without bond in the Gwinnett County Jail - save for a short, court-approved reprieve to attend a family wedding - since he was pulled from the school cafeteria and arrested March 5.
Bernstein said her client has tried to counsel other jailed youth during his nine-month incarceration. He'll likely finish high school somewhere other than Brookwood upon his release, she said.
"He's hanging in there. It obviously helps to know what the result of this (case) is," said Bernstein. "Knowing what's going to happen, he'll continue to keep his head up."