Grand jury indicts ex-BOE candidate

COVINGTON - A man who allegedly lied about his criminal past in an effort to gain a seat on the Newton County Board of Education has been indicted by the Newton County grand jury.

"The grand jury today returned a two-count indictment against Horace Don Gresham, one count for false swearing and one count of making a false statement in connection with notice of candidacy," said Newton County District Attorney Ken Wynne on Friday afternoon.

According to Wynne, each count carries a possible sentence of one to five years in jail.

Gresham, 72, allegedly lied when he filed to run for the District 2 seat on the Board of Education by swearing in an affidavit that he did not have a prior conviction for a felony involving moral turpitude.

In fact, Gresham had been convicted of sodomy with a child under the age of 14 in DeKalb County in 1998.

"If we learn of an offense like that and investigate it and find sufficient evidence for prosecution, then we will present the case to the grand jury," Wynne said of Friday's indictment.

Wynne said the Clerk of Court's office will now set an arraignment date for Gresham for some time in the near future.

"He'll be given an opportunity to turn himself in, and if he does not do so, he will be arrested on a warrant," Wynne said.

Gresham's ill-fated attempt to run for office ended shortly after he qualified when the Citizen published an article in May outlining his 1998 criminal conviction. Georgia Election Law states that at least 10 years must have elapsed from the date of completion of a sentence for conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude and qualification to run for elective office. Gresham was convicted in May 1998; his sentence included one year in prison and 11 years on probation, meaning he is not eligible to seek elective office until 2010.

Subsequently, three residents of District 2 challenged Gresham's eligibility to run for office and he withdrew from the race just prior to a hearing before the Newton County Board of Elections.

One of the challengers, Annette Harmon, said at the time she was glad that Gresham had withdrawn his candidacy; however, she said, "that does not eliminate the fact that he still can run for office some day."

State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, addressed the possibility of a future candidacy by Gresham by introducing a bill in the state Legislature this year that would prohibit sex offenders from running for election to local boards of education. The bill passed in both the House and Senate and awaits the governor's signature.

Douglas's bill amends state law to prohibit anyone on the national or state sex offender registries from being elected to a board of education. Gresham's conviction occurred before the sex offender registry was created and he is not on the list. Douglas said such cases cannot be grandfathered into the law, but he is trying to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.

"Last year, I vowed that the first bill I would introduce in the 2009 legislative session would be to prevent a situation like this from happening again," Douglas said in March after the bill had cleared both the House and Senate. "I have delivered on that promise. The idea that a pedophile can be a member of a local school board and have unrestricted access to schools cannot be tolerated. Working with Rep. Doug Holt, we now have made sure that won't happen in Newton County or in Georgia."

Gresham has promised to run for the District 2 Board of Commissioners seat in 2010.

Staff reporter Crystal Tatum contributed to this report.