Former dentist gets no prison time for molestation

John N. Cagle entered an Alford plea Thursday to a charge of lewd act on a minor, not admitting guilt but conceding there was enough evidence to convict him.

A Sullivan’s Island man, accused of inappropriately touching an 8-year-old girl in his home, will not go to prison.

John Newton Cagle, 55, entered an Alford plea Thursday to a charge of lewd act on a minor, not admitting guilt but conceding that there was enough evidence to convict him. The S.C. Supreme Court has said there is no significant difference between an Alford plea and a guilty plea, and it will be reflected on his record as a conviction.

Cagle was a dentist with a practice on Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant.

During a hearing in Charleston, Circuit Judge Thomas Hughston sentenced Cagle to 10 years in prison but suspended the sentence, which means he won’t serve time behind bars. Cagle spent seven days in jail after his arrest before he was released on bail.

He will have to serve five years of probation, register as a sex offender and be required to be monitored with GPS for the rest of his life because of the nature of the charge. Cagle also may not contact the victim in the case.

Cagle originally also was charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor, but prosecutors dismissed the charge as part of the plea agreement, along with the stipulation that the sentence could not exceed five years in prison.

The criminal sexual conduct with a minor charge had carried the possibility of a mandatory minimum of 25 years to life in prison, none of which could be suspended or probation granted.

Prosecutors said winning a conviction on the criminal sexual conduct with a minor charge could have been difficult because the girl did not have enough understanding about what happened to her to detail the elements of the charge.

Ninth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Debbie Herring-Lash said she spoke to the victim’s mother following the hearing, and the mother said she was happy that the case is over and that her child did not have to testify in court, Herring-Lash said. The victim’s mother was also pleased that the monitoring was imposed, she said.

Cagle also agreed to relinquish his dental license, according to prosecutors. In a letter read in court by the attorney representing the family of the child, the family stated that they were not opposed to probation. The family and child did not attend the hearing.

During a New Year’s Eve party in 2010 at Cagle’s Sullivan’s Island home, the daughter of one of the party’s attendants ran downstairs crying to her mother. She told her mother that Cagle went into the room where she was sleeping and inappropriately touched her, according to Herring-Lash.

The child was interviewed by the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children’s Center and retold her account, Herring-Lash said.

Cagle did not say much during the hearing, except to ask the judge to consider letting him stay with his family. “Any mercy and compassion you can show in sentencing phase, I would appreciate it,” Cagle told the judge.

Hughston did not explain his decision before handing down the sentence.

Supporters for Cagle appeared in court but did not speak. Letters of support already had been submitted to the court.

Cagle’s attorney, Jack Sinclaire, said this case is like no other he has been involved with, and that this crime is not in Cagle’s nature. He described Cagle as compassionate and generous. “In my overall view, judge, this case makes no sense at all,” Sinclaire said.

Sinclaire told the judge that an evaluation by Dr. William Burke, a forensic psychiatrist, concluded that Cagle did not have a sexual interest in children.

Jolie Logan, president and chief executive officer for Darkness to Light, a non-profit group that advocates the prevention of child sex abuse, wouldn’t comment on this case specifically, but said that leniency in any abuse case sends the wrong message.

“Ultimately, our efforts must be on doing more to insure these acts don’t happen,” she said.

Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or