Guilty: Horton enters plea agreement on child sexual abuse

He faces seven years in prison without parole and will then be forced to register as a sex offender.

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James Horton, followed by his wife, Betty, leaves the courtroom at the Franklin County Courthouse after entering a plea agreement to child sexual abuse on Friday, June 14, in Russellville. News photo/Bridget Berry

By Bridget Berry, Managing Editor

Just a week after his case was put on indefinite hold due to an appeal to the state Court of Criminal Appeals, James Horton has pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a child at Red Bay Elementary School.

Horton now faces sentencing on July 29 at 8:30 a.m. He will remain free until the sentencing hearing, but will be taken into custody immediately upon sentencing to begin serving his time.

Horton appeared at the Franklin County Courthouse on Friday morning, June 14, to enter a plea on Count 5, sexual abuse of a child under the age of 12, which is a Class B Felony. He had faced nine counts in the indictment. By entering a guilty plea to this charge, Horton waived his right to a jury trial as well as forgoing any chance of parole or probation. Per the agreement reached with the Franklin County District Attorney’s office, Horton will serve seven years in prison, after which time he will be released and must register as a sex offender.

 “The plea agreement in this case was only offered to the defendant after extensive consultation with the victims’ families and with their permission,” Assistant District Attorney Jeff Barksdale said. “Our office is pleased with this outcome. James Horton pleaded guilty to the most serious count of the indictment, and the sentence he receives will be ineligible for parole or a reduction in time.”

District Attorney Joey Rushing said the agreement was the result of a great deal of work and he is pleased to reach this outcome after the case had been plagued with delays.

“This is the product of a lot of hard work out of our office as well as the defense attorneys,” Rushing said. “We’ve had the victims involved in every step of the process. We were working to get it to trial and there were a lot of delays, but we felt like this was a very good and reasonable settlement based on the age of Mr. Horton. We wanted to be sure he served some prison time for his actions that affected so many children. The delays may have kept coming, but we felt like this was a strong plea with the fact that he is going to serve seven years with no chance of parole or probation, as well as that he is in his 70s, and he’ll be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life.”

Barksdale also appreciated the work put in by those helping with the investigation.

“I appreciate the hard work of the state agents who investigated this case as well as the diligence and hard work of the Children’s Advocacy Center workers who performed the forensic interviews,” Barksdale said.

Horton, 72, was arrested in January 2018 and arraigned in April 2018 over allegations he exposed himself to four children at the school and watched another child while she was in the bathroom, all while he was serving as a classroom volunteer through the Foster Grandparent Program of Northwest Alabama. He was not was not an employee of the school. The incidents occurred in a bathroom at the elementary school, with Horton allegedly having contact with two of the children. He was charged with criminal surveillance/peeping tom; two counts of sexual abuse of a child less than 12 years old, and four counts of indecent exposure.

The allegations came to light in December 2017 when students told their parents about the incidents.