A Clayton County’s child’s revelation to a therapist that “I have a secret” formed the basis for a 21-count indictment alleging multiple charges of child molestation and rape against the parents of nine kids.
Jeffery Don Wilson, 45, faced 17 counts of child molestation, rape, statutory rape, aggravated child molestation and incest. His wife, Christine Melnee Wilson, 39, was facing eight counts of child molestation and one aggravated child molestation. Their victims were 9, 8, 7, and 5 at the time of the abuse, reported during 2006-2007.
The couple pleaded guilty Monday afternoon to three counts of child molestation during a break in jury selection for their trial set to start this week. They were sentenced to 15 years, to serve five in prison followed by 10 on probation. They must register for life as sex offenders, have no contact with their children and make no attempt to regain their parental rights.
They were given credit for time served in the Clayton County Jail since their August 2010 arrest.
Clayton County Executive Assistant District Attorney Lalaine Briones negotiated the plea deal with public defenders Chris Toles and Willie George Davis Jr. to avoid the trauma of putting the children on the stand. In exchange for the Alford plea, the state dropped the balance of the charges.
An Alford plea allows a defendant to avoid admitting guilt while acknowledging that the state has enough evidence for a conviction if the case went forward to trial. If the defendants violate probation, they will return to prison, said Briones.
“They will violate, I have no doubt,” she said outside the courtroom. “As soon as they get out of prison, they’ll go back on drugs and violate probation. When they do, they will go back to prison.”
Two of the victims waited anxiously with their respective guardians in Clayton County Superior Court Monday afternoon, waiting for the terms of the pleas to be ironed out. Four of the couple’s nine children live out of state with relatives. A fifth lives with another relative. The rest are in foster care outside of Clayton County.
Briones outlined a pattern of sexual abuse between the parents and their children that extended to abuse between siblings. The Clayton case started in February 2006, when the Wilson family moved from Henry County. A child welfare case followed them and within months the children were removed from the house, said Briones.
“During a home visit, drug paraphernalia were found, the parents refused a drug test, which was recorded as a positive, and the house was extremely unsanitary,” she said. “The kids were returned six months later but removed again in May 2007.”
On June 1, 2007, Jeffery Wilson’s brother accepted legal guardianship of all eight of the children. He took four to Mississippi to live with him and his wife. Within months, several of the children began to act out sexually with each other and the foster couple sought therapy.
Briones said three of the children were admitted to three separate facilities for treatment, with no contact with each other. During the treatment, multiple therapists reported the children made the same outcry — their parents had sexually molested them and encouraged the children to engage in similar behavior with each other, she said.
“They all said the parents had sex with the children and encouraged behavior between the children,” she said. “I’ve spoken to all the therapists and they all said there is no indication that any of the children were coached. In fact, the children’s cognitive abilities made it impossible for them to make up descriptions of the accounts of what took place in that house. They made outcries in different facilities with no access to each other.”
The children prepared statements they’d hope to read in court during the sentencing hearing. However, Judge Geronda Carter reviewed the contents first and instead ordered copies made for each defendant. Each one accepted the copy inside the courtroom without looking at it. The statements were not read into the record.
Briones said after the hearing that the statements were emotionally “over the top.”
“They said things like, ‘I hate you,’ ” she said. “The parents have their own copies, they can read them every day and know what they did to those kids.”
Neither parent spoke during the hearing although Jeffery Wilson tried twice to address Carter. Both times, his lawyer consulted with him and he ended his query. Neither defendant displayed any emotion during the proceedings. When Jeffery Wilson tried to make eye contact with the children, deputies ordered him to turn around while other deputies moved to block his view.
However, Toles made it obvious that he doubted the children’s stories about abuse.
“There are two sides to every story,” said Toles. “My client was not advised of the allegations until she tried to contest the adoption in Mississippi. But she does admit the state has enough evidence to prove its case.”
Briones said the guardians were consulted about the plea deal.
"I contacted them and told them to give me a number they were comfortable with, in terms of years in prison," she said.
"The 15-year, serve five years, recommendation came from the guardian. These kids need time to heal and put this behind them."
One of the children said afterward that she is happy with the outcome, ready to move forward in her life. Briones agreed.
“The kids are happy,” said Briones. “And they are happy they don’t have to testify.”