By Eddie West
A former gym instructor charged by the Smith County Sheriffs Department for photographing female minors in a bathroom at a Tanglewood cheerleading/tumbling training facility in January of last year has pled guilty.
In a pre-arranged plea agreement, Andrew Wayne Halford, 33, Murfreesboro, pled guilty to six counts of a 12 count indictment before Criminal Court Judge Brody Kane, Friday morning, receiving a (totaled) 24 year sentence.
Halford received a four year sentence for each of the six guilty pleas. The four year sentences are to be served consecutively (one after the other as opposed to concurrent sentences which are served at the same time) resulting in the 24 year sentence. Halford was also fined $200 for each guilty plea.
The 12 count indictment included: attempted especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor; attempted aggravated unlawful photographing of a minor; unlawful photographing in violation of privacy; attempted especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor; attempted aggravated unlawful photographing of a minor; unlawful photographing in violation of privacy; attempted especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor; attempted aggravated unlawful photographing of a minor; unlawful photographing in violation of privacy and three counts of attempt to commit especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor.
Halford, who has remained jailed since January of 2021 to the present, received credit for time served.
Also, Halford will be placed on the state’s violent sex offender registry and cannot be taken off the list.
In addition, with the plea deal, Halford cannot appeal his case.
As part of the plea agreement, six of the 12 counts were nollied or dismissed by the state.
Friday morning, a clean shaved Halford was led into the courtroom from the county jail for the formal plea agreement proceedings. When arrested, Halford sported a lengthy, but well-groomed beard.
With his legal representative by his side, Halford stood before Judge Kane as District Attorney Jason Lawson read the plea agreement.
Judge Kane informed Halford of his legal rights to reject the plea deal, however the defendant acknowledged he was in agreement with the guilty plea as well as the sentence he would receive.
Halford was represented by the Fifteenth Judicial District Public Defender’s office.
During the court proceedings, General Lawson noted since the incident occurred Halford had written letters of apology to the two businesses (one in Tanglewood and a second in Williamson County’s town of Franklin).
As part of Friday’s court proceedings, two individuals appeared in person to make victim impact statements after the guilty plea was formally entered.
For the first time since being employed at the Tanglewood facility, Halford came face-to-face with the two as they both tearfully, reflected upon the emotional trauma the incident had caused them, as well as the struggles to overcome the impact of being a victim.
Several parents and others attended Friday’s court proceedings.
Halford is to serve his sentence with the Tennessee Department of Corrections.
Prior to Friday, Halford did not have a criminal history and is considered a Range One offender which means he will eligible for parole in the future.
Outside the courtroom, following the proceedings, General Lawson met with those impacted by Halford’s criminal activity.
When Halford becomes eligible for parole, General Lawson vowed to attend future parole hearings and stand with those impacted by the incident.
Speaking to the news media outside the courtroom after Friday’s hearing, General Lawson said he had met with the victims and their families, explaining the plea agreement as well as the option having the case go to trial.
Those involved were in agreement with the plea agreement, said General Lawson, indicating the outcome of the case would be much the same had the case been tried and Halford found guilty.
Halford was arrested in January of last year on charges in Smith County and still faces charges in Williamson County where he was indicted by a grand jury for similar offenses in July of this year.
Since his arrest here in January of last year, Halford has remained jailed, mainly in Smith County. Halford was transferred to Williamson County for a period after being indicted in that county in July.
Smith County charges:
In January of 2021, Halford was originally charged by the Smith County Sheriffs Department with three counts of unlawful photographing of a minor and especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor in connection with the case.
At that time, local law enforcement officials anticipated additional charges as the investigation continued.
Halford was booked into the Smith County Jail at 11:40 a.m. (Thursday, January 21, 2021). Halford was arrested at his brother’s residence in Murfreesboro by the Smith County Sheriffs Department and officers with other law enforcement agencies who were investigating the suspect.
At the time of his arrest, investigations in Smith and Williamson counties, where Halford was also an instructor at a sports gym, were ongoing simultaneously.
Halford was initially held without bond in the Smith County Jail. Later, Smith County General Sessions Judge Branden Bellar set Halford’s bond at $50,000. In order to make bond, Halford would have had to appear before Judge Bellar for a source hearing. Halford never posted bond.
According to an affidavit of complaint issued for the initial charges in January of 2021, the investigation into Halford’s activities began on January 14 (2021) when the sheriff’s department received information the suspect “called the owners of Smith County Elite Cheerleading and Athletics and confessed to the owners that he had been putting a backpack in the bathroom and it was equipped with a GoPro camera capturing videos of the victims changing clothes.”
During an interview with detectives with the Smith County Sheriffs Department in January of 2021, Halford, allegedly “admitted to concealing the camera in a black backpack and placing it in the bathroom for the purpose of sexual gratification,” according to the affidavit of complaint.
In addition, the affidavit of complaint noted the youngest victim was nine years of age.
At the time of the Smith County investigation, law enforcement authorities in Williamson County were investigating a similar case in that county but did not name a suspect.
However, law enforcement authorities in Williamson County were collaborating with Smith County law enforcement in the investigation while investigations were taking place in both counties.
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