published Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

LaFayette High School teacher charged in sex with student, 17

Walker County, Ga., sheriff's deputies arrested LaFayette High School teacher Norman Earl Hodge on Friday night on two counts of sexual assault by an authority figure.

Hodge, 42, a former member of the LaFayette City Council, is charged with having sex off campus with a 17-year-old girl who's a student at the school.

The age of consent is 16 in Georgia, and the relationship was consensual, Sheriff Steve Wilson said. But state statute makes it a crime for teachers to have sex with students under age 18.

The girl's father reportedly told school officials, who contacted the sheriff's office.

The Georgia Supreme Court in 2009 released Harlem, Ga., High School coach Melissa Chase three years into a 10-year sentence for having a lesbian relationship with a 16-year-old student on the grounds that it was consensual. The student testified she wanted the relationship.

After that ruling, the Georgia Legislature tightened up the law, Wilson said, so the student's consent doesn't matter.

"Now, consent cannot be used as a defense," the sheriff said.

Hodge, who is married, was released at 1 p.m. Saturday on a $5,000 bond, Wilson said.

A conviction can result in one to 25 years in prison, a fine of up to $100,000 and having to register as a sex offender.

Hodge was one of three LaFayette High School employees arrested in October 2008 at Southeast Whitfield High School on charges of possession of alcoholic beverages on school grounds, records show.

If was not immediately clear if that charge was dismissed.

Walker County Schools Superintendent Damon Raines didn't return a call Monday morning seeking comment.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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