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Student gets jail time in beating case

CONYERS -- Fighting in school can land students in jail. That was the message Rockdale County Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation wanted to send to public school students after the judge sentenced a former high school student to jail time for beating up another student in the school bathroom.

Manuel Jesus Castillo, 19, of Conyers was sentenced to five years to serve two years in confinement Thursday afternoon after pleading guilty to aggravated battery a couple weeks ago. The felony charge stemmed from an August 2009 incident in which Castillo assaulted a 16-year-old boy in the bathroom during lunch, knocking the victim unconscious, breaking his jaw and leaving the victim bleeding on the floor. An alleged name- calling in a text message and a dispute about a girlfriend were determined to have caused the attack.

Nation said he intended to have the sentence posted in every school in the county so every student knows they "don't live on an island at school."

"The laws of this state reach inside every classroom, every bathroom, every hallway, and if they (students) see fit to hurt one another, they're going to be criminally responsible for it," Nation said. "I want every kid in this school system to look at that two years and say, 'That could be me if I hurt somebody in school.'"

The victim, another male student and a Heritage High School assistant principal testified during the sentencing hearing. Each witness gave a version of the incident where a male student asked to talk to the victim in the bathroom and Castillo followed the two boys and assaulted the victim.

The victim's mother also testified as to how "traumatic," the ordeal was, recounting her son's 10-hour surgery and her son being rushed to the hospital in danger of possibly bleeding to death.

"My son was terrified of going back to school, and it took him several weeks before he would go back in the bathroom," the mother said.

Local attorney John Martin defended Castillo and told the court that his client, who had no criminal record, had "reaped the fruits of his behavior," and had been expelled from school because of the incident, which may squash Castillo's hopes of serving in the Marine Corps.

"So it has affected his future in a major way," Martin said.

The defense was in favor of a sentence in which Castillo paid restitution and probation instead of going to prison.

But Nation said prison time will deter other students.

"It's serious when you start talking about extreme acts of physical abuse or violence in our schools," Nation said. "Parents want their children to be safe."

Nation pointed to the 1999 shooting at Heritage High School in which six students were injured.

"There's a lot of conditions in public schools today that are not safe," Nation said. "How do you correct it? As far as I'm concerned, you put them in jail when they misbehave and hurt someone else. They're not special."

In addition to jail time, Castillo was ordered to pay $1,385 in restitution -- the balance remaining of the victim's hospital bills, which totaled $37,471.