TIFTON -- In a 12-hour session of Tift Superior Court Wednesday, 25 criminal cases were removed from the calendar as 19 defendants entered guilty pleas. Some of the cases dated back to 1997.

Chief Tift Superior Court Judge Gary C. McCorvey sentenced the defendants, who were charged with felony crimes ranging from possession of and intent to sell various illegal drugs to aggravated stalking, burglary and entering automobiles with intent to steal.

The courtroom traffic was unusually heavy for the Calendar Call/Motion Day session Wednesday. A larger number of defendants, family members and defense attorneys sat in the courtroom than for most trials.

During the session, some defendants were assigned new attorneys since some attorneys had removed themselves from cases over the years. McCorvey called defendants' names and, in some cases, defense attorneys turned to visually identify clients they might not have seen for years. Most defendants appeared for court as subpoenaed, but some had bench warrants issued for failing to appear.

Attorneys held whispered meetings with defendants as McCorvey, state prosecutors and defense attorneys continued through the docket.

At one point, eight defendants who pleaded guilty lined up at once in front of McCorvey for pleas and sentencing. None of them, to the court's knowledge, had been charged with crimes since their arrests.

Some cases were passed until defense attorneys could reconnect with clients and spend more time reviewing evidence in the cases before advising.

McCorvey made a strong statement to defendants who had not decided whether or not to opt to plead guilty or choose a jury or bench trial. He said pleas in pending cases would not be accepted after Feb. 13. Tift Superior Court trial week begins Feb. 24.

In the past, defendants have been allowed to change their minds and plead guilty up to the day their trial was scheduled to begin.

"We are going to get these cases handled and they are not going to go away," said McCorvey. "If you are guilty, you need to talk with your lawyer to get the best deal possible."

During hearings Wednesday, district attorneys offered several defendants negotiated pleas.

"It is time to do what you are going to do," said McCorvey. "If you are guilty and that is the best deal, it would be less than advantageous not to plead guilty now."

Whether the defendant "acknowledges his or her guilt early on," weighs heavy, McCorvey said, when he sentences defendents found guilty by a jury.

Criminal trials beginning Feb. 24 will be held in two courtrooms with McCorvey serving on the bench in one and Tift Superior Court Judge J. Harvey Davis in the other.

If for reasons such as not enough time to file appropriate motions or attorneys' case loads prevents cases from being heard before trial week, McCorvey said additional trials will be held the week of March 17 and March 24. He said it was the defendants' responsibility to "keep up with dates and get information from their attorneys."

Out of the 84 cases appearing on the calendar of "older, non-violent" cases, 18 of those will not be prosecuted. Another dozen still listed as unsettled were found to have already been disposed.

Several guilty pleas were accepted Friday during probation revocation hearings at the Law Enforcement Center's courtroom.

To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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