Former Sweetwater educator James Clayton Burns pled guilty on Tuesday to two counts of indecency with a child by contact during 32nd Judicial District Court proceedings under Judge Glen Harrison.
Burns was indicted in May on three counts — sexual assault, indecency with a child by contact and indecency with a child by exposure. He was later charged with the same charges from another victim. One complaint came from May 1997 from a 12-year-old victim and the other case came from April of 2002 from a 14-year-old victim.
"Cases involving children, especially sexual assault cases, are incredibly difficult for everyone. There are no winners in these kinds of cases," said Burns' attorney, John S. Young.
Burns, who is a former teacher of Sweetwater Independent School District, was put on paid administrative leave in mid-January in 2010 from O'Donnell Independent School District where he served as the principal. The reason for the leave was classified as educator misconduct at Sweetwater ISD. He was under investigation by the Texas Education Agency and State Board for Educator Certification and resigned his position on Jan. 27, 2010. O'Donnell ISD superintendent Randy Allen said Burns cited his health as the reason for his Jan. 27 resignation. The O'Donnell ISD had not found any evidence of misconduct in the three years Burns was employed at the school.
Burns received 15 years confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for indecency with a child by contact, a second degree felony, in each of the two cases. The other two counts were abandoned by the state in each case. His two 15 year sentences will run concurrently. Burns was also ordered to pay a $2,500 fine in each case and $743 in court costs. He will also have to register as a sex offender when released from prison. Burns will receive one day credit for jail time already served.
"Mr. Burns accepted responsibility for his actions, which although many years old, obviously had a devastating impact on the complaining witnesses and their families," said Young. "I am pleased to see this case resolved and am thankful that it was not necessary to try this case for the sake of the families involved. I applaud Mr. Burns for taking responsibility for his conduct which saved lots of pain and anxiety for many people."
Sweetwater ISD Superintendent Terry Pittman said there were no problems during Burns’ tenure at Sweetwater. He worked for Sweetwater ISD for nine years, both at the intermediate school and middle school. Pittman stated that Burns resigned in 2003 without incident to take a position at Abilene ISD.
"These cases are always emotional, but I think what makes this one more alarming is the fact that he was in our school system for so long," said 32nd Judicial District Attorney Ann Reed. "The fact that there was no trial was beneficial for the victims and their families. I think that the family believes that justice has been served and so do I."
Burns has been remanded to the custody of the Nolan County Sheriff's Office to await transport to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility.