published Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Former substitute teacher accused of molesting 3 boys pleads guilty to non-sexual charges

A Chattanooga man and former substitute teacher who was accused of molesting three boys in a North Georgia school pleaded guilty today to non-sexual charges.

James Combs, 64, was charged with four counts of child molestation in February 2010 after three fifth-grade boys complained they were touched inappropriately at Boynton Elementary School.

Combs has maintained his innocence in the case, and he said after he was indicted in July 2010 that he contacted attorney Scott King to take his case.

King was a lead defense attorney for Tonya Craft, the Chickamauga school teacher who gained national attention in 2010 when she was acquitted of 22 charges of child molestation, aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery in Catoosa County.

In Catoosa County Superior Court this afternoon — the same courthouse where Craft won her case — Combs pleaded guilty to three counts of cruelty to children in the second degree and will serve six years on probation.

Combs said he decided to take the plea deal instead of risk losing at trial and possibly spend up to 40 years in prison.

“I’m not happy at all about it,” he said this afternoon.

While the circumstances in Comb’s case are different, King claims his case is similar to Crafts’ because of the way the children were coaxed and led to answer questions in their interviews.

Lookout Mountain Assistant District Attorney Alan Norton said he still believed the boys’ testimony that Combs had touched them inappropriately at the school, but because he didn’t want to put the boys through more trauma, he offered a plea deal.

For complete details, read tomorrow’s Times Free Press

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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