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AIKEN, S.C. (AP) — A former South Carolina legislator who opposed placing restrictions on people charged in abuse cases was sentenced Monday to five years' probation after pleading guilty to a domestic violence charge in an attack on his wife.
Chris Corley, 36, was soft-spoken when he entered his plea to first-degree domestic violence, a felony with a 10-year maximum sentence. In barely audible tones, Corley apologized to his constituents, friends and family, including an 8-year-old daughter who witnessed the attack and was heard pleading with him to stop during a 911 call recording.
"It's a very difficult thing for a father to hear," Corley said after listening to the recording in court, the first time he said he'd heard it. "I'll spend the rest of my life trying to make that up to her."
A grand jury initially indicted the Graniteville Republican on aggravated domestic violence — the state's toughest category of such crimes, punishable by up to 20 years in prison — enhanced when the alleged abuse occurs in the presence of children.
Corley had just been elected to a second term when authorities say he attacked his wife during a December 2016 argument over his infidelity the day after Christmas. In a police report, authorities said the couple's young children were present when Corley attacked his wife, biting her nose bloody and pointing a gun at her.
"Just stop, Daddy. Just stop," his children can be heard on a 911 call. "Daddy, why are you doing this?"
Corley's wife said he stopped hitting her only after noticing she was bleeding and hearing the children screaming, authorities said. Prosecutors said he took away his wife's cellphone to keep her from summoning help but she managed to call 911 on her Apple Watch.
Authorities said that after Corley threatened to kill her and then said he'd kill himself, his wife took the children to her mother's house across the street.
Suspended from the state House after his indictment, Corley resigned his House seat a month after his arrest, as lawmakers prepared to introduce legislation calling for his expulsion. Local solicitors asked Attorney General Alan Wilson to take over the case, and Heather Corley told the judge Monday that she had begged state prosecutors to pursue a lower charge, one that would allow him to continue practicing law.
Instead of help, Heather Corley said she felt belittled and put off.
"I was desperate to save my family," Heather Corley said. "My children were crying every night."
Corley, who is licensed to practice law in Georgia, will report to the state bar association Tuesday that he has been convicted of a felony, and it will decide whether to disbar him.
Prosecutor Kinli Abee said the state was simply pursuing its case as allowed by the law. Prosecutors made no statement after court.
Heather Corley also said she felt her husband was "coerced into this plea" when the attorney general's office subpoenaed their daughter to testify against her father, saying Chris Corley would go to any length to protect his daughter from that ordeal. Since his arrest, Heather Corley said her husband had been effectively treated for his bipolar disorder and that she had no concern of any future violence.
As a legislator, Corley voted against South Carolina's stronger domestic violence laws in 2015, saying he didn't think guns should be taken away from people charged in abuse cases. He may be best known in the House as a staunch defender of the Confederate battle flag, sponsoring a bill calling for a statewide vote on whether to return the flag after its removal from the Statehouse grounds in 2015 following the massacre of nine black churchgoers by a self-avowed white supremacist who embraced the flag. The bill went nowhere.
Holding hands upon entering and exiting the courthouse Monday, the Corleys made no statements to reports. Chris Corley's lawyer told reporters he felt the sentence was fair but that prosecutors had been overzealous in their pursuit of the most severe charge as well as the subpoenaing of the Corleys' daughter.
"I think the prosecution was shameful from the attorney general's office," John Delgado said. "I think these folks were very insensitive."
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