THOMASVILLE — Linda Terrell McLean was sentenced Wednesday to a suspended five-year prison sentence and 10 years probation on nine counts of cruelty to children in the first degree involving students at her now-defunct Thomasville school.
Superior Court Judge Brian McDaniel sentenced McLean to five years in prison on one cruelty count and suspended the prison sentence to probation if McLean complies with all probation conditions.
The defendant also was sentenced to 10 years of probation — to be served concurrently — on each of eight cruelty counts. The sentence included a $4,000 fine and 160 hours of community service.
A jury was chosen in September 2019 to hear the case against the McLean, who was accused of choking and beating students at Favor Christian Academy. An 18-count indictment was returned on Aug. 10, 2017.
McLean entered guilty pleas on what would have been the first day of testimony in the trial in September,
The majority of people stood when McLean's Atlanta lawyer, Chinwe' Foster, asked McLean supporters among those in the packed courtroom to stand.
McDaniel said he received 138 letters of support for McLean, along with state and defense reports. The judge said he reviewed every letter he received.
Prosecutor Catherine Smith said she had watched more than 1,500 hours of video from the school showing McLean's acts of cruelty. Three videos were shown in court Wednesday.
One of the videos showed McLean striking students with what appeared to be a large board.
Smith said McLean choked students and had older students hold down smaller children while she punished them. One student, Smith said, was forced to stand in front of a class holding a sign that said he was stupid while McLean ridiculed the boy in front of other students.
"I had no doubt there would be a large amount of support from the community for her today," Smith told the judge. "Your honor, all I ask is justice for the child victims."
Several people praised McLean, saying her students seemed happy with her, and she accepted students other schools would not.
"Let her go and do the work of God, that God set out for her to do," a supporter told the judge.
"(Ms.) McLean kept order in the school," another said.
A former student, now a college student, said McLean laid the foundation for her education.
Another described McLean as "a top-notch teacher and superb disciplinarian."
McLean's attorney asked McDaniel to consider her client's character and the impact she had on students.
Addressing the judge prior to sentencing, McLean said she could not find words to describe how much she regrets hurting others and asked for forgiveness for her actions.
Tearfully, McLean said that suddenly, her means of discipline is no longer allowed and considered a felony.
McLean said she realizes she can no longer work with children, so she is writing children's books. One has been published, she said.
"I'm just happy this case has reached a conclusion for all the families and children involved," Smith said.
Incidents occurred in 2016, with the exception of one in 2015.
Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820