THOMASVILLE — Wiping away tears, Linda Terrell McLean entered guilty pleas in Thomas County Superior Court Tuesday to nine counts of felony cruelty to children in the first degree.
A jury was chosen Monday to hear the case against the defendant, who was accused of choking and beating students at Favor Christian Academy, which McLean owns.
When Judge Brian McDaniel called court to order Tuesday morning, the jury did not enter the courtroom.
McLean and her Atlanta lawyer, Chinwe' Foster, approached the bench. Foster placed her hand on her client's back as McLean wept.
McDaniel told McLean she entered the Thomas County Judicial Center courtroom with the right to remain silent and a presumption of innocence. McLean said she understood that upon entering a guilty plea, the rights would be surrendered.
An 18-count indictment was returned on McLean on Aug. 10, 2017.
The indictment included:
• Eleven counts of cruelty to children in the first degree
• Four counts of aggravated assault
• One count of battery
• One count of simple battery
• One count of simple assault
Incidents occurred in 2016, with the exception of one in 2015, according to the indictment.
McDaniel told McLean that each count to which she plead has a maximum sentence of five to 20 years in prison, probation or a combination of the two, adding that she faces a maximum sentence of 180 years in prison, probation or a combination of the two.
McLean said she understood the cruelty charges and penalty. Her pleas may be withdrawn anytime before sentencing.
"That is a right you have," McDaniel said.
He explained that if she violates probation in a sentence, she will go to prison.
The judge asked McLean and Foster if they realized that with sufficient evidence, McLean could have been convicted.
"Yes, your honor," Foster replied. Said McLean, "Yes, sir."
Catherine Smith, assistant district attorney, read aloud each of the counts to which McLean plead guilty.
In one, McLean is accused of striking a child repeatedly with a ruler. Another count states McLean grabbed a child and shook her.
She is accused on whipping a child repeatedly with a belt on the upper body in the school lunchroom in front of other students, twisting a child's neck and repeatedly forcing his head on a table and making a child hold another child down while she whipped the boy with a yard stick, among other cruelty acts.
A sentencing date has not been set. McDaniel said sentencing could be in December or January.
The judge said he will receive presentencing information from the prosecution and defense and will need time to consider the information before sentencing.
McLean, who no longer lives in Thomasville, will remain on bond until sentencing.
Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820