GAINESVILLE - A north Georgia woman who pleaded guilty to explosives charges was sentenced Friday to serve six years on probation, but a federal judge warned her that if she appears before him again he will send her to prison.
Celia Savage, 24, of Cornelia, was arrested in May 2012 after federal agents raided her home and found two pipe bombs and multiple guns. She pleaded guilty in July to making and possessing pipe bombs after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.
U.S. District Judge Richard Story said the decision on her sentencing was one of the most difficult he's had to make.
``This may be the worst decision I've ever made, and you may make me look like an absolute fool, but I'm going to give you a chance,'' he said.
He added, ``I am taking a chance on you. I don't take chances lightly. Don't let me down.''
Prosecutor William McKinnon had argued that Savage should serve three years in prison followed by three years on supervised release. He cited the seriousness of the crime she was charged with in the context of anti-government statements she had posted online and previous run-ins she had had with law enforcement.
Defense Attorney Jeffrey Ertel said Savage was immature and suffered from untreated mental illness at the time of her arrest. She detonated bombs in a remote location as a form of release for her anger and frustration, but she never intended to hurt anyone and never posed a danger to society, he argued.
Savage's psychologist Guy Jordan testified that she has changed enormously since he began treating her in December 2012. He said a combination of counseling and adjustments to her medication have helped her learn how to think differently, gain coping skills and control her anger.
``Now she has learned to think before she reacts, and that is a huge, huge step for her,'' he said.
While she has made enormous progress, Jordan said, she will likely need at least two more years of regular counseling and must continue to take several medications.
Savage's boss at the restaurant where she's worked since June said she has been an exemplary employee and has a calming effect on people.
Her mother, Kim Willard, testified that she has seen a 180-degree turn in her daughter's behavior and attitude.
``I see her looking at the future now where before she didn't,'' Willard said.
Savage was emotional when she addressed Story before her sentencing. She apologized, accepted responsibility and told him that she never meant to hurt anyone.
``I feel better about myself and I am a happy person, and I would like to continue that. Please don't take me away,'' she said, sobbing.
She gasped, cried and was visibly emotional when Story said he was giving her a chance. After the hearing, a tearful Savage hugged and thanked the more than two dozen people who had come to support her.
McKinnon, the prosecutor, said he respected the judge's decision. Ertel said he was happy for Savage.
In addition to six years on probation, Savage must wear an ankle monitor and be on home confinement for the first year. She will be able to leave only for work, doctor's appointments and other purposes approved by her probation officer. Story also ordered her to continue taking her medications and attending counseling.