Former guard on verge of plea bargain

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By SCOTT PESZNECKER

A plea bargain is still pending for Neal Alden Leash, a former Sierra Conservation Center guard who faces 95 counts of child pornography and abuse in Calaveras County Superior Court.

At a hearing Friday, Leash's attorney said he needed to see the plea bargain which was revised slightly to make sure Leash still agrees with it.

Leash, 46, has preliminarily agreed to a plea bargain under which he would plead guilty to one count of rape and two other counts involving sexual acts with a minor. His sentence would be 25 years to life in state prison.

But the deal with the District Attorney's office is not official until Leash agrees to it in court.

Leroy Faulk, Leash's attorney, said the plea bargain before the court is very similar to the version agreed to by his client.

The minimum 25-year sentence is the same, too.

Leash, held without bail in the Calaveras County Jail, will be back in court at 10 a.m. tomorrow, and could agree to the plea bargain then, Faulk said.

After Friday's hearing, Faulk said the evidence against Leash and his former prison job contributed to his long prison sentence.

"I think he's being treated harsher than most people in the same circumstances," Faulk said. "Usually people who do this are the homeless types, or something else out of the norm."

Leash has also pleaded guilty to federal charges including 11 counts of sexual exploitation of a child and one count of possessing images of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct.

He could get up to 25 years in federal prison when he's sentenced in Sacramento on March 22.

But Leash's federal and state prison terms would run concurrently, so he would only serve the longer sentence.

Faulk said Leash would be better off if he could go through some kind of counseling or rehabilitation program, instead of going straight to prison.

"Regardless of what most people say, this is a mental health issue," Faulk said. "In California, we have no way of dealing with these people."

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