Columbus courts: Man pleads guilty to sexual battery, gets 5 years’ probation

While Jeremiah Harris pleaded guilty to sexual battery, his victim was hiding behind her mother.

The girl left the courtroom, ushered away by supporters, before Muscogee County Superior Court Chief Judge John Allen sentenced the 33-year-old Harris to five years’ probation for the Dec. 8, 2009, incident at her home.

Harris’ plea meant charges of child molestation and aggravated sexual battery were dismissed.

“I’ve known Jeremiah all his life,” the victim’s grandmother said. “I’m very disappointed in you, Jeremiah. You weren’t raised that way. I’m just very, very hurt.”

Several people were at the home that night, sleeping in various spots in the apartment. The girl slept on a couch with Harris and his wife on the floor nearby, said Senior Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly.

“Mr. Harris was next to her,” the prosecutor added. “Shortly after they had laid down, he reached under the cover and touched her on her breast and private area.”

The girl went to her mother, who confronted Harris, Kelly said.

“When she confronted him, at some point he said he didn’t do anything, but if he did do anything, he didn’t mean to do it,” he added.

The girl also told a friend about the touching about 10 days after the incident, the prosecutor said.

The victim was interviewed by police, though she didn’t want to speak. Instead, she nodded her head to answer questions. After speaking with the girl and her mother last week, Kelly decided the best method of resolving the case was his recommendation of five years’ probation, with the requirement that Harris must receive a sex offender evaluation and counseling, Kelly said.

“I don’t think anyone on either side is particularly happy with the outcome, but I think it is the best course of action in this case,” he added.

Defense attorney Richard Hagler, who represents Harris, asked Allen to follow the recommendation. He also asked for first offender status for Harris, which would mean that the conviction wouldn’t appear on his record if he successfully completes his probation.

Allen said he’ll review the case within a year before deciding on whether he’ll grant first offender status.