A former counselor at a youth-detention center here pleaded guilty Friday to having sexual intercourse and engaging in other carnal acts with an 18-year-old inmate she was counseling at the facility last year.
Four of the episodes, which happened in late April 2021, were recorded by a security camera that overlooked the counselor’s desk at the Milledgeville Youth Development Campus.
The counselor, Lorenda Denise Williamson, 54, of Gray, had been employed by the state Department of Juvenile Justice since 2014 where she helped youths dealing with mental health and substance-abuse issues.
Upon pleading guilty Friday in Baldwin County Superior Court to four counts of sexual contact by an employee or agent in the first degree, Williamson was sentenced five years in prison followed by 20 more on probation.
Prosecutors had asked Judge Amanda S. Petty to sentence Williamson to 10 years behind bars for Williamson’s illicit encounters with the teenage boy who she was counseling as a social services provider.
After fellow YDC employees noticed that Williamson and the teen on occasion engaged in what they deemed overly playful or “inappropriate contact,” which included possibly kissing, investigators examined the security footage from Williamson’s office and discovered the sex acts.
The teen later said that he and Williamson had sexual relations for a few months leading up to the discovery. Despite his apparent claim to have been a willing participant in the acts — which happened while he was in custody — such contact is nonetheless forbidden.
“He said that both of them were aware that a camera was in (Williamson’s) office,” prosecutor Nancy Scott Moskaly said in court Friday. “He said that (Williamson) just became reckless and did not care … what was recorded. He even said if he cared what was on the camera he would have destroyed the camera — which he obviously did not do.”
Williamson sobbed at times while testifying Friday.
She said that in 2020 and 2021 she was “having issues” in her marriage. She said the 18-year-old who she had sex with at the detention center had made “advances” and had “pursued” a relationship with her for some time.
“My home life was horrible,” she said, “and things were going south, bad. … Before, it was kind of easy to say (to him), ‘You’re gonna get out of here one day and you’re gonna meet somebody and you’re gonna have a good life.’ … But he just continued to make comments and … it was just kind of hard to say no (to him) anymore.”
Williamson, who is originally from Macon, majored in criminal justice in college as an undergrad. She later earned a master’s degree. She said that since making bond in the wake of her arrest last summer she has worked in local restaurants to make ends meet. She said she had moved in with her daughter and three grandchildren, helping support them.
Williamson, referring to her relationship with the incarcerated teen, said, “I resisted this young man for, like, two years,” but that in the end she lost “all insight and all judgment.”
Moskaly, the prosecutor, later asked Williamson if she was blaming the victim.
Williamson said she was not.
“Now for two years, you’re telling this court, that a youth detained at the YDC is putting the moves on you … and it didn’t occur to you that you might need to go tell someone that a youth is hitting on you?” Moskaly said.
Williamson said others she worked with were aware of the playful behavior and on occasion kidded about it. But when pressed by the prosecutor, Williamson could not name anyone who knew about it.
“You liked the attention your were getting … didn’t you?” the prosecutor asked.
“Only at that time,” Williamson answered, again citing her marital problems.
Moskaly mentioned the videos that brought Williamson’s crimes to light.
“In some of them,” Moskaly said, “you’re laughing, aren’t you?”
“You’re having a good time?”
“You were aware that there was a camera over your head, recording all this?”
“You wanted to get caught?” Moskaly asked.
“No, ma’am,” Williamson replied, later adding, “I was not thinking clearly.”
Williamson’s lawyer, J. Travis Griffin, told the judge that Williamson’s relations with the teen were “an anomaly in her life.”
“She made a mistake,” Griffin said. “She made a horrible mistake. It’s the worst mistake that she’s made in her life. And, judge, I just don’t think that any of us should be defined by the worst thing that we’ve done. … But as is the nature of criminal charges, this has become the thing that defines her. Her life as she knew it before this incident is completely over.”