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Second teen pleads guilty in Laurelwood molestation case

POSTED: February 21, 2008 5:01 a.m.

The second of two teen defendants in a molestation that occurred at the Laurelwood mental health treatment facility pleaded guilty Friday.

Benjamin Corey Pirkle, 18, was sentenced by Judge Andrew Fuller to 20 years of probation with a year under house arrest. He must register as a sex offender after pleading guilty to child molestation, misdemeanor statutory rape and other charges in a negotiated plea entered Friday in Hall County Superior Court.

Pirkle admitted to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in a bathroom of the treatment facility on Wisteria Drive in Gainesville on Nov. 12, 2006, while a 14-year-old girl watched. All three teens were being treated at Laurelwood at the time. Authorities said the 14-year-old girl pulled the victim into the bathroom in order for Pirkle, who was 17 at the time, to molest her. They chose the location because of its lack of security cameras, according to authorities.

The 14-year-old girl, now 15, pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and enticing a child for indecent purposes in December. She was sentenced to probation in a negotiated plea, and also must register as a sex offender.

District Attorney Lee Darragh said the victim’s family agreed with the plea deal.

"The victim’s family felt it was the best way to go under the circumstances," Darragh said.

Darragh said he and prosecuting attorney Wanda Vance evaluated the facts of the case and examined evaluation reports of the defendants before deciding on a sentence recommendation.

"It’s always unfortunate when an event like this happens," Darragh said. "I believe these cases need to be addressed in a way that will punish the defendants, but also give them some opportunity, due to their youth."

Pirkle still faces a separate adjudication in juvenile court, where the plea and sentence will be sealed.

Officials with Laurelwood, which is owned by Northeast Georgia Medical Center, have declined to address the case, citing federal privacy laws.



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