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Plea Lets Youth Avoid Prison for $20 Theft of Ice Cream

Associated Press

A teen-ager once sentenced to three years in prison for stealing $20 worth of ice cream from a school cafeteria avoided time behind bars by pleading guilty Thursday to reduced charges.

Dehundra Caldwell, 18, was sentenced to a year’s probation and was ordered to perform 40 days of community service and pay $600 in fines and court fees. He pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor criminal trespassing.

“Now I want to finish school and, hopefully, within the next month or so choose which college I want to go to,” said Caldwell, a senior.

He had pleaded guilty last year to burglary. His three-year sentence sparked an uproar, with the NAACP and other critics saying it was racist to punish Caldwell, who is black, so severely since he had no previous criminal record.

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He spent 10 days in jail before being freed pending a review of the case. Caldwell’s original guilty plea and felony conviction were eventually overturned by the Georgia Court of Appeals. Last month, he was re-indicted on the burglary charge.

“To me, it’s all messed up. The kids of today, instead of letting them go to school, get an education so they can better themselves when they get out, they’re putting them in jail,” Caldwell said. “Society makes you what you are.”

Audrey C. Fisher, an Atlanta-based official with the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said a white person would have been treated differently.

“Racism played a very strong part in all of this,” she said.

The prosecutor, Johnnie Caldwell, who is not related to Dehundra, has denied that racism played a part.

In July, 1993, Caldwell, his younger brother and a friend broke into Upson-Lee Middle School near Thomaston, about 60 miles south of Atlanta. They stole ice cream bars from the freezer in the cafeteria. The other boys were dealt with in Juvenile Court.


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