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CHATSWORTH — Dressed in a dark suit and tie with thinning hair and frameless glasses, Cary Wayne Rhodes remained silent as officials conferred and witnesses testified on his behalf during a sentencing hearing in Murray County Superior Court on Wednesday.

When it came time for Rhodes to speak — the mayor of tiny Taylorsville in Bartow County who was accused of traveling to Chatsworth in an attempt to have sex with an underage girl — he gave short answers to Judge William Boyett’s questions.

“Yes, I do,” replied Rhodes, 57, when Boyett asked if he understood the charges District Attorney Bert Poston outlined to the court.

“Yes, it did ... I take responsibility,” Rhodes responded when Boyett asked him if it happened that way, and he also answered yes when Boyett inquired if he was aware the maximum sentence was 20 years.

Boyett sentenced Rhodes to two years in prison and 10 years on probation on one count of computer and electronic child exploitation. He must also pay a $2,000 fine plus court costs and surcharges, perform 240 hours of community service and abide by sex offender restrictions. But a general condition that Rhodes not be around any children under the age of 18 was eased when Boyett made an exception for supervised contact with his biological grandchildren, nieces and nephews — with at least one other adult present.

Rhodes was charged in late October by the Murray County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the FBI with attempted child molestation and violation of the Computer Pornography and Child Exploitation Act. He pleaded guilty to the exploitation charge in May, and Boyett ordered a pre-sentence investigation.

On Wednesday, Boyett consulted with Poston and Rhodes’ attorney, Donald Evans Jr. of Cartersville, three separate times before the actual proceedings began. Rhodes stood at the lectern with his hands clasping a portfolio notebook behind his back, and later sat at the defense table when the hearing became lengthy.

Poston told the court Rhodes responded to a Craigslist posting on the Internet “of a sexual nature,” when in fact he was interacting with an undercover law enforcement officer. Evidence showed the correspondence resulted in Rhodes traveling to Chatsworth in an attempt to meet with a minor for sex, Poston said, where he was arrested in a parking lot by FBI agents and officers of the FBI’s Northwest Georgia Safe Child Task Force. Taylorsville is partially in Polk County, just a few miles north of Rockmart and near Lake Allatoona.

Rhodes had three people testify on his behalf before sentencing.

Attorney Lester Tate, a past president of the Georgia Bar Association, said he has known Rhodes for the 20 years he’s practiced law in Cartersville. He told Boyett that Rhodes’ daughter is an attorney with his firm.

“He has an outstanding reputation ... I’ve never heard anyone in Cartersville say anything bad about him ... people in Cartersville were shocked,” he said of Rhodes’ arrest.

As Boyett listened intently, psychiatrist William Moon said Rhodes “doesn’t meet the category of a sexual predator.”

Tension in the courtroom built prior to sentencing, and Rhodes’ brother Ron spoke last.

“He’s a father — a parent — a business owner and a leader in the community,” Ron Rhodes said. “This is not who he is and is so out of character for him ... he is not a threat to society.”

Ron Rhodes said any time in prison would make it “unlikely his business can continue without his oversight.” Cary Rhodes is a self-employed engineer, according to court records. He is listed as the chief financial officer and secretary of Taylorsville Baptist Church, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s website.

Prison time ‘appropriate’

Poston said after court the state initially recommended three years in prison and 12 years on probation.

“(Evans) provided us with some additional information and asked if we would consider less time in confinement,” Poston revealed. “We agreed to come down to two years — which is lower than what we normally recommend — but something we felt was appropriate given the particular facts and circumstances of this case.”

But Poston said Rhodes declined the offer.

“(He) entered a plea without a recommendation,” Poston said, adding that Evans requested Rhodes be allowed to serve his sentence in the Murray County jail instead of prison.

“We expressed concerns that a lengthy local jail sentence would impose costs on the taxpayers of Murray County that a prison sentence would not,” he said. “Ultimately, Judge Boyett agreed that prison was appropriate in the case.”

The court also considered “first offender” status for Rhodes — who had no prior criminal record — and although Boyett sentenced him as a first offender Boyett said he would have to study case law to see if a person convicted of an electronic child exploitation charge could receive that sentencing consideration.

Evans said after court that Boyett “really put a lot of time and a lot of study into the sentence that he rendered.”

“You couldn’t ask for more consideration from a judge, really,” he said. “He was sentenced to less time, best I can tell, than any other person involved in a similar sort of incident — and there’ve been a bunch of them up there. His case was a bit different than the others in that he was talking to a person who purported to be an adult. He wasn’t talking to an agent who was pretending to be a minor.”

Evans said evidence that didn’t come out in court showed Rhodes was involved in “a series of conversations that occurred over days.”

“(In) the original conversation (the agent) reported to be a man with a wife,” he detailed. “Then he said it’s not my wife, it’s my stepdaughter ... but she’s not an adult, she’s 14. They arranged to meet in a public place and (Rhodes) went up to have a look. That doesn’t excuse the type of conversations he had over the Internet, but the state dropped the attempted child molestation charges and limited his crime to inappropriate conversations over the Internet.”

Evans said it was the best sentence Rhodes could get “under the circumstances.”

“It’s sad for (his) family, it’s sad for him,” he concluded. “He’s been a great asset to the public here in Bartow County for years and years and it’s just a shame he got himself caught up in something like that.”

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