HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - A former teacher's aide convicted of abusing a child six years ago has been sentenced to 186 months in prison.
That's roughly 15 years, but nowhere near the maximum sentence for the crime, life in prison.
Judge Dennis O'Dell handed down the sentence Thursday morning to Michael Horton, who had worked as a teacher's aide at Providence Elementary School.
In court as friends and family testified on his behalf, Michael Horton's body shook with unheard sobs. His family, too, tearfully listened to the judge's sentence.
Assistant District Attorney Tim Gann said, "He took advantage of a very young man... we are all satisfied he is going to prison. And [the sentence] is sufficient."
Horton's family disagreed. They packed the courtroom to show support for Horton, proclaim his innocence, and ask the judge for leniency.
Pauletta Horton, the defendant's wife, said, "Everyone that came out... believes in him. He's mentored a lot of people that came."
Horton's attorney, Robert Tuten, echoed that the show of support "illustrates that the Michael Horton portrayed by this child is not the true Michael Horton."
Judge O'Dell said he read several letters of support written on Horton's behalf, and considered what they had to say before handing down his sentence.
Pauletta Horton said when a jury read Horton's guilty verdict last month, she lost her faith in the justice system.
Tuten explains, "Juries, and I think probably adults in general tend to believe children, regardless of how ridiculously inconsistent and unbelievable their story is."
The family plans to appeal.
"He is innocent. And believe me, we will fight," said Pauletta Horton.
Assistant District Attorney Gann says while these emotions are powerful, it's important to remember a jury of 12 agreed on the guilty verdict last month.
"It's hard enough getting 12 people to decide where to go eat lunch," he said, "If you can get them to decide on a major fact like this [verdict,] then I believe in the system."
He said it's often hard for family members to accept loved ones' guilt, and that may be the case here.
"It is a fact that he is guilty of what he did, but it's hard to face. And I understand that."
A Madison County jury convicted Horton back in August of first-degree sodomy for an incident dating back to 2008. Jurors spent nearly two days deliberating before reaching a verdict.
Prosecutors say Horton was taking care of a child entrusted to him by the mother. The mother began noticing behavioral changes in the child, which led to an investigation.
Click here for more background and courtroom reaction to the jury's verdict.