Former Weatherman Sentenced

 May 11, 1999 | Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN)

 | Page: A1 | Section: A1
729 Words | Readability: Lexile: 1360, grade level(s): >12

Former TV weatherman Daryl Wayne McCollister will serve no jail time on his 11 guilty pleas in the 1997 statutory rape of four underaged boys here. Mr. McCollister, 44, was sentenced to one day of community service per week for two years by Criminal Court Judge Doug Meyer. He was sentenced under provisions of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1989, a product of prison overcrowding adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly, according to District Attorney General Bill Cox. Judge Meyer noted that a portion of the act contains a presumption that anyone facing a sentence of eight years or less should first be considered for alternative sentencing, as opposed to serving jail time. Mr. McCollister was placed on eight years of supervised probation and restricted from contact with anyone under 18. Judge Meyer also directed him to receive counseling and told him to register as a sexual offender. The former weatherman and science theater educator told the court he had always been open about the fact he was homosexual and that the incidents involving the underage boys in June and July 1997 were the only times in his life he engaged in such activities with minors. "It was suggested by my employer (WTVC NewsChannel 9) that I not go to gay bars and establishments," Mr. McCollister testified. "That cut me off from meeting others with a similar lifestyle. I ended up going to the streets seeking others."  Steve Hunsicker, news director at NewsChannel 9, declined to discuss Mr. McCollister's comments. "Those types of discussions involved employer-employee relationships and such discussions are between the employee and the station," said Mr. Hunsicker. "We will not debate or talk about such topic matters." "The loss of his job and suffering comes with the territory," said Prosecutor Kelli Black, when the defense argued the defendant already had suffered. Mr. McCollister, under cross-examination by prosecutors, acknowledged he "knew at least one boy was under age; it was apparent to me. I am sorry for what I am here on. I won't ever be involved in anything illegal again." Mr. McCollister, later in his testimony, said, "My love and passion is in teaching, public education and in science." "And young boys?" Mr. Cox asked. "No, that was a happenstance occurrence," said the defendant. "So you couldn't control your urges?" "I disagree," said Mr. McCollister. "I could have controlled those urges. I did not. I did something wrong, which I have admitted." Attorney Don Poole, who represented Mr. McCollister, said the defendant pleaded guilty to the maximum sentence of two years for statutory rape under Tennessee law. Statutory rape carries a sentence range of one to two years. "In this case, based on everything I have seen and heard, I do not believe he is a pedophile," said Judge Meyer before imposing sentence. "He is a homosexual. It is appropriate his sentences be consecutive." "The judge followed the law and the guidelines and did what he thought was right and you can't really argue with that," said Mr. Cox. Mr. Cox said he has "no idea" how many defendants may have avoided serving prison time in Hamilton County in any given year because of the 1989 act and presumptive sentencing. "We realized that as a first offender there was at least a chance he would be eligible for probation," said Mr. Cox. "The purpose in structuring the sentence the way we did -- eight years with the consecutive sentences on pleas involving the victims -- was to ensure that if he was placed on probation, he would be facing a longer period of probation." Assistant District Attorney Black said Mr. McCollister had no prior convictions on sex crimes against minors. The defendant would not have faced a potential sentence of more than the eight years he agreed to -- even if he had been convicted at trial of the original 27 statutory rape charges and three attempted statutory rape charges, according to prosecutors. Nineteen charges were dismissed in return for the plea agreement. Under the Tennessee Sentencing Reform Act of 1989 there are only a handful of felonies for which a first-time offender faces a sentence of more than eight years and the certainty of some jail time. Crimes with mandatory jail time upon conviction under the act are first-degree murder, second-degree murder, aggravated arson, aggravated vehicular homicide, especially aggravated robbery, aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, possession of cocaine or heroin for resale, aggravated child abuse, aggravated sexual battery, especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and aggravated exploitation of a minor.

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