A teenage girl who plotted last year to attack members of the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Gainesville reached a plea deal during a hearing this afternoon.
Seventeen-year-old Caitlyn Pye of Gainesville plead guilty to one count of criminal attempt to commit a felony and was sentenced under the Hall County Superior Court to serve ten years on probation. Pye’s probation period will begin once she is eligible to leave the Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center at 21-years-old.
Pye’s plea was filed under the Georgia First Time Offenders Act, which allows a defendant to enter a guilty plea but avoid a conviction.
Pye addressed the courtroom during her hearing, telling viewers that included members of Bethel AME Church, “I’m truly sorry for what I’ve done…I hope that one day you can forgive me but if not I understand.”
Judge Allyson Toller, who oversaw the case, told Pye that her willingness to improve herself during her time in the detention center played a role in her sentencing.
“I appreciate how much you have worked on yourself while you’ve been in custody,” said Toller. “From all accounts, it appears that you have really welcomed the assistance that you’re getting.”
Witnesses including Karen Green, a counselor at the Gainesville RYDC, and Pye’s mother Haley Pye spoke on her behalf.
Green testified that Pye was “dark” and kept to herself when she first arrived at the detention center, then eventually opened up to Green and set goals for herself.
“She began to blossom…she was working towards her GED she wanted so much and she really felt bad about what was going on,” said Green.
Pye’s mother said she had also noticed a change in her daughter since being at the detention center. She added that Pye was not taught to hate others growing up.
“She’s not a monster…I love her and she is an amazing, amazing child who did something really, really stupid,” she said.
Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who presides over the Georgia AME Church district, and Reverend Michelle Rizer-Pool, pastor of Bethel AME Church issued impact statements at the hearing.
Jackson said that the experience was an “alarm bell” to Bethel AME Church members and to AME church members all over the nation, but that there is no hostility toward Pye.
“While she apparently hates or hated us, we do not hate her and we do not wish to nullify her future and do not give up on her,” said Jackson.
Rizer-Pool focused on the impact that Pye’s threats have had on the Bethel AME Church community, including that money originally intended for repairs on the church building were spent instead on security measures.
She said that Pye needs to be held accountable for her actions.
“The laws of this nation, the laws of this state, the laws of this city must be upheld or else there are consequences for our actions, not disobedience,” said Rizer-Pool. “There are consequences for every act that we do.”
As a part of her sentence, Pye will also be required to:
- Write a letter of apology to members of Bethel AME Church
- Avoid contact with members, staff or employees of Bethel AME Church
- Stay outside 150 feet of Bethel AME Church
- Stay outside 150 feet of any AME Church in Georgia
- Undergo counseling and psychological evaluation
- Serve 50 hours of community service