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Corley receives 5 years of probation

Posted: August 8, 2017 - 11:51pm
Corley
Corley

A judge sentenced former S.C. state representative Chris Corley to six years in prison Monday on domestic violence charges but suspended the sentence and put him on five-years probation.

That means if Corley stays out of trouble for the next five years, he'll serve no prison time. If he violates his probation, he'll go to prison for the full six-year term.

"If there's one sidestep, particularly with your family, I'll have no reservation" ordering incarceration, Judge A. Doyet Early told Corley.

Corley, 36, who represented District 84 in Aiken County before resigning in January, had accepted a deal to plead guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree domestic violence, a felony that could have put him in jail for up to 10 years.

He had been charged with aggravated domestic violence in a Dec. 26 incident at his home in which he was accused of punching his wife in the face and head and threatening to kill her while pointing a handgun at her. An Aiken County Sheriff's Office report said it happened in front of the couple's 8- and 2-year-old children.

Corley's wife, Heather Corley, had made an unsuccessful request to the state Attorney General's Office to reduce his charges to misdemeanors, and made the same plea to the judge Monday, so her husband could continue to practice law and support his family.

Whether Corley, who holds a license to practice in Georgia, will lose it is unclear. It will be up to the Georgia Supreme Court, which will rule after getting recommendations from the State Bar and a special master's investigation.

Augusta attorney Jack Long said he has seen cases where lawyers convicted of felonies were merely suspended and others where lawyers convicted of misdemeanors were disbarred. But probation terms of longer than three years generally yield recommendations to disbar, in his experience, he said.

Much of Corley's nearly 90-minute sentencing hearing involved Heather Corley, her mother, friends and others testifying about a change in his behavior in 2016 that eventually led to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, for which he is taking the prescription medication Latuda as part of his treatment by an Augusta University doctor.

"We knew something was wrong with Chris," she said. "He told me he didn't feel right and needed to see a doctor."

His condition worsened throughout 2016, she said, and medications prescribed to help him only made his condition worse. The Corleys eventually saw three doctors, but he didn't start to improve until January, when they started seeing the AU doctor.

Asked by the judge if there had been other instances of violence in her home, Heather Corley said the couple sometimes argued and got physical about a month before the December incident.

"I shoved him and he threw a cup and hit me in the head," she said.

She said she was worried her husband would kill himself. Heather Corley told the judge that she and her husband felt "coerced" into taking the plea deal to avoid prosecutors' efforts to have her 8-year-old daughter testify against her father.

The judge then advised her that he could not accept Chris Corley's plea if it had been coerced and asked Corley if he agreed with his wife.

"Why are you pleading guilty," Early asked.

"Because I am guilty," Corley replied.

The judge held up evidentiary photos of Heather Corley's face, taken in December, and asked: "Did you in fact cause these injuries?"

"Yes, Your Honor," Corley said.

The judge lamented "the horror of criminal domestic violence. It takes place in front of the children and pits children against their parents."

Still, courts can't drop every case where the victim doesn't want to prosecute or a child has to testify. Assistant Attorney General Kinli Abee said subpeoning the Corley's daughter was a last resort after a request to interview the child was denied by the family.

Chris Corley spoke about his regrets over the incident.

"There are so many people I need to apologize to," he said, naming former constituents in House District 84, his parents, in-laws "who've treated me like nothing but their own," and his wife and children.

"I'll have to live with that the rest of my life," he said.

During the hearing, prosecutors played one of the two calls to 911 the night of Dec. 26. Corley's children could be heard shouting "No, Daddy" and "Daddy stop."

Corley told the judge he'd never heard it before.

"It's difficult for a father to hear," he said, choking back tears. "I'll have to spend rest of my life making up for that."

He concluded by asking for mercy.

"I've never been in any trouble before, and we did try to for a year to seek medical attention. I was having problems," he said. "I just beg the court for mercy so I can continue to be a father to my children try to make up for what happened on Dec. 26.

 

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