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Molester got probation just days before slain Ga. boy vanished

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Three days before young Christopher Michael Barrios disappeared, a child molester suspected in the 6-year-old boy’s killing was sentenced to probation instead of prison for violating conditions of Georgia’s sex offender registry.
    The suspect, George David Edenfield, also never served prison time for his 1997 child molestation conviction after he struck a plea deal with prosecutors, according to a review of court records by The Associated Press.
    ‘‘I really don’t think there was a breakdown in the system,’’ Stephen Kelley, district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, said Monday. ‘‘It’s just a tragic situation.’’
    Still, Christopher’s father and grandmother blamed the court system for not putting Edenfield in prison before he had a chance to harm the boy.
    ‘‘That cost my son his life,’’ said Mike Barrios, the boy’s father. ‘‘It could have been stopped right there if they had locked him up.’’
    Edenfield, 32, is one of four suspects arrested last week in connection with Christopher’s abduction and slaying. The child’s body was found Thursday stuffed in a trash bag dumped along a wooded roadside about three miles from his home.
    The boy had been missing for a week after neighbors last saw him playing alone in the mobile home park where he lived with his father just outside of Brunswick, a Georgia port city 60 miles south of Savannah.
    On March 5, three days before Christopher vanished, Edenfield pleaded guilty in Glynn County Superior Court to violating a state law that prohibits sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds and other places that draw children.
    Court records show sheriffs’ deputies told Edenfield last September he had 10 days to move from his previous home near downtown Brunswick, which sat too close to a playground. He was arrested Oct. 9 after he failed comply.
    Superior Court Judge Stephen G. Scarlett sentenced Edenfield to 10 years probation after he pleaded guilty in a deal reached with prosecutors. By that time, Edenfield had moved with his parents to the trailer park where Christopher lived.
    Kelley said it was Edenfield’s first violation since his conviction a decade earlier. Prosecutors said there’s no history of violence in the suspect’s record.
    ‘‘Should we have sent him to prison because he waited an extra two weeks to move?’’ Kelley said. ‘‘I think you’ll find very few prosecutors’ offices seeking prison sentences for technical violations.’’
    In the 1997 child molestation case, Edenfield had been accused of rubbing his clothed body ‘‘in a sexual manner’’ against two boys, ages 7 and 9, who lived next door to him. Prosecutors said the boys were fully clothed when Edenfield molested them.
    Edenfield struck a plea deal with prosecutors for which he received 10 years probation, a $1,000 fine and was required to undergo counseling and register as a sex offender. Had the case gone to trial, Edenfield would have faced up to 40 years in prison.
    Kelley, who had just been elected before the 1997 case, recalled prosecutors felt they had good reason not to pursue a trial.
    ‘‘What I’ve been told is the parents didn’t want the children to testify and they were leaving town,’’ he said. ‘‘Sometimes, prosecutors get caught in a position of we either dismiss the case, or you get what you can.’’
    Kelley said he plans to seek a grand jury indictment Wednesday against Edenfield, his parents and a family friend, Donald Dale, in connection with Christopher’s death.
    He would not say what charges he’ll pursue, but Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering said Monday he expects murder charges to be brought against all four.
    Edenfield has been jailed since last week for violating his probation, which prohibits him from contact with children under 18. Police say he admitted playing a role in Christopher’s disappearance.
    His parents, David and Peggy Edenfield, and Dale have been jailed on charges of lying to police and concealing Christopher’s body. They initially told police they knew nothing about the boy’s disappearance.
    Police say all three later changed their story, with David Edenfield and Dale telling investigators they buried the boy’s body.

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