A former band director and 2009 teacher of the year in the McDuffie County School System was sentenced Thursday to two years in prison and eight years on probation on child pornography charges.
Philip Bradley Pirkle, Jr., 32, was charged with violation of the Child Exploitation Prevention Act and sexual exploitation of children. Pirkle pleaded guilty to both charges on Thursday, Oct. 6, in McDuffie County Superior Court before Judge Harold A. Hinesley.
On the first count, Pirkle was sentenced with 10 years total, two in confinement and eight on probation. He received the same sentence for the second count. He will serve the two sentences concurrently. Pirkle will also be required to register as a sex offender.
"Our judge gave a fair sentence that fell within the range we anticipated," said Chief Assistant District Attorney Woody Davis.
Pirkle was a teacher and band director at Thomson Middle and Thomson-McDuffie County Junior High schools for nine years.
The McDuffie County Sheriff's Department began an investigation when the mother of a then 14-year-old girl reported inappropriate communication that took place between June 28 and July 8, 2009, on the social networking Web site MySpace. The case was later turned over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Eventually, the pair set up a meeting under the ruse of Pirkle giving the girl "flute lessons" at his home. There was no evidence that he and the girl ever met.
Pirkle resigned in July 2009 after the GBI served him with search warrants for his home on Johns Road, where they seized computers and media storage devices.
He was arrested in February 2010 and has been free on bond since. He was indicted by a grand jury in August 2010.
At Thursday's plea hearing, Davis entered into evidence a CD containing a summary of the child pornography found on Pirkle's home computer. Davis told the courtroom it did not capture the most explicit images but was "horrific" nonetheless and included images of children as young as 8 years old.
The mother of the victim spoke on her daughter's behalf, fighting tears as she described the effect Pirkle's actions had on their lives. She said her daughter was harassed and ridiculed at school, she stopped attending social events and she refused to go shopping with her mother unless they went to another town where she wouldn't be recognized.
"During what should've been her important teenage years, she could not be who she needed to be," the mother said.
In response, Pirkle's defense attorney, Dan Conaway of the Atlanta firm Conaway & Strickler, presented Hinesley with 58 support letters and a handful of family photos.
More than 20 people, including friends, family and church members, were in the courtroom supporting Pirkle. Five character witnesses, including his father, took the stand, describing his involvement at his church and in the community.
David Lambert and William Kulling, friends of Pirkle's from two churches, portrayed him as a devoted, well-liked volunteer who has always behaved with enthusiasm and professionalism.
Pirkle's wife, Natalie, said their life turned from a dream into a nightmare as soon as they returned from their honeymoon, but she plans to support her husband no matter what happens.
"I've chosen to remain married to Brad for the rest of my life," she said. "He's made my life infinitely better, and I don't want to be separated from him for a day."
The last to take the stand was Pirkle himself, who described the ordeal as the most humbling, humiliating moment of his entire life.
"My actions are not representative of what I believe or who I am," he said. "I regret the effects they've had on First Baptist Church, the McDuffie County School System, my wife, my family, my friends and this community that I love so much."
Conaway requested a sentence of five years on probation. Hinesley said the charges were serious enough to necessitate more than probation, though Pirkle's "life shouldn't be destroyed by a long-term incarceration."
Along with a 10-year sentence, Hinesley limited Pirkle's computer use to solely his personal laptop for business purposes. He prohibited access to social networking Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace.