LAFAYETTE, Ga. — For the next three months, attorney Larry Bush Hill will eat and sleep with the type of clients he used to defend.
Hill pleaded guilty in Walker County Superior Court on Monday to charges of influencing a witness and attempting to suborn perjury, both felonies. He then walked into his office down the block, changed out of his dark suit and threw on a sky blue T-shirt, khaki shorts and thong sandals — a more comfortable outfit for his check-in at the jail.
In pleading guilty, Hill admitted that he tried to convince a key witness in a child molestation case to lie. He was representing Mark Lynn McGill, who is accused of getting oral sex from a 12-year-old boy in 2015. That case is pending, and the witness says she walked in on the act.
Earlier this year, the witness was arrested on a possession of methamphetamine charge. And soon after, according to an incident report, McGill approached the witness' girlfriend about making a deal. If she signed an affidavit, explaining that she didn't actually see the illegal act, McGill would pay for the witness' bond and hire an attorney for her. This conversation was recorded, according to the incident report.
Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Bert Poston, who prosecuted this case, said the witness told a Walker County Sheriff's Office investigator what McGill and Hill were up to. The sheriff's office then recorded a pair of jailhouse meetings between Hill and the witness in early May.
In the first meeting, according to an indictment, the witness maintained her original version of events: She saw the boy performing oral sex on McGill. But later that day, Hill returned with an affidavit, supposedly in the witness' words. The affidavit would have counted as a statement by the woman, explaining that she did not actually see the crime.
When Hill walked out of the room, a detective seized the document.
"The affidavit he brought to the second meeting contains statements he knew to be false," Poston said after Monday's hearing. "He didn't sign it. He brought it there for the purpose of signing it."
Before pleading guilty, Hill gathered in a circle in the courtroom with his mother, sister, brother-in-law, friends, pastor and lawyer. They prayed. Then, Hill hugged each person, holding them each for about 10 seconds. Wiping his eyes, he embraced an assistant court clerk, too.
In addition to three months in jail, Hill will surrender his law license, pay a $2,500 fine, serve 240 hours of community service and remain on probation for the next 10 years. He also agreed to testify in McGill's own witness tampering case, if that ever goes to trial. Hill will not have to take the stand concerning any evidence in McGill's child molestation case, as those conversations are protected by attorney-client privilege.
Hill's lawyer, Chris Townley, said the jailhouse recordings were the key pieces of evidence.
"I told Bert [Poston], 'Either you have it or you don't,'" Townley said. "If there's nothing on the recordings, [Poston] doesn't have a case. If the conversation is on the recordings, I don't have a case."
Hill, the son of former Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Judge Ralph Hill, was also the target of a 2015 Walker County Sheriff's Office investigation. Some inmates claimed he was sneaking drugs into the jail, and an undercover detective tried to set up a deal through him.
But during a recorded phone conversation, according to the investigative file, Hill told the detective he would not sneak in drugs. Detectives watched him smuggle cigarettes to an inmate. But they closed the investigation after a couple of weeks because Sheriff Steve Wilson said the evidence amounted to only a misdemeanor, if anything. Plus, one source told investigators that other inmates suspected he was a snitch.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.