Third defendant pleads guilty to molesting child, sentenced to 49 years in prison

Sally Ann Garcia, 48, formerly of 1123 Riverbend Road S.E., Dalton, entered a guilty plea Thursday to child molestation and incest for acts of sexual abuse.

The guilty plea came during the third day of her trial for those crimes. Superior Court Judge Jim Wilbanks sentenced Garcia to the maximum time allowed by law, 50 years, with the first 49 to be served in prison followed by a statutorily-mandated one year on probation. Wilbanks stated from the bench that “horrific does not even begin to describe” the crimes.

A jury was selected on Monday at the Dalton Convention Center due to ongoing renovations at the Whitfield County Courthouse. Chief Child Abuse Prosecutor Ben Kenemer prosecuted the case while local attorney Mike Corbin represented Garcia.

Evidence was presented on Tuesday and Wednesday and was set to resume Thursday after lunch when Garcia decided she wished to enter a guilty plea. Kenemer had called 15 witnesses to that point including staff of the GreenHouse Child Advocacy and Sexual Assault Center in Dalton, the Family Support Council, the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFACS) and the Dalton Police Department. One witness also testified concerning the Darkness to Light training that is done locally by the Family Support Council in order to educate people on child abuse.

Kenemer was assisted by Supervisor Heather Gates of DFACS, who oversaw the investigation in Whitfield County Juvenile Court. Two additional witnesses were expected to testify Thursday afternoon with jury deliberations expected to begin Friday.

Garcia is the third person to plead guilty to molesting the victim. Her husband, James Steven Garcia, 46, pleaded on Nov. 5 and was sentenced to 35 years with the first 20 to be served in confinement. James Garcia entered his plea prior to a jury being selected.

On Aug. 10, Faye Michelle Smith, 41, entered a guilty plea and agreed to testify against James Garcia if his case went to trial. Smith received a sentence of 20 years with the first seven to be served in prison.

Neither James Garcia nor Smith were scheduled to testify against Sally Garcia during the trial this week. All three adults knew about and actively participated in sexually abusing the child to varying degrees.

Fifteen jurors were initially selected, including three alternates. One juror became ill after hearing testimony and was excused, with one of the alternates seated.

Two of the jurors went above and beyond after the plea and sentencing. Persuaded by the importance of the Darkness to Light training program in our community, they donated their juror pay to the Family Support Council to help fund the program. Jurors are paid $25 a day for their service so the two jurors donated a total of $200 to the program.

Kenemer pointed out the numerous agencies involved in the prosecution and thanked all the agencies for a team effort in making sure justice was served.

"Many people in this case doggedly pushed for this case to be brought forward and did not rest until this case was brought to court. Their efforts certainly helped in making sure that this victim received the justice that they definitely deserved," he said.

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