BARNES, P. J., MCMILLIAN and MERCIER, JJ.
found Marvin Hughes guilty of child molestation and statutory
rape. The trial court merged the child molestation conviction
into the statutory rape conviction, for which the court
imposed a 20-year prison sentence. Hughes appeals from the
denial of his motion for a new trial, contending that the
trial court erred in admitting similar transaction evidence
during his trial and that his sentence should be vacated and
his case remanded for the trial court to clarify that his
child molestation conviction merged into his statutory rape
conviction. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that the
trial court committed no error in its admission of the
similar transaction evidence, and that the trial court's
sentencing order made clear that Hughes's child
molestation conviction merged into his statutory rape
conviction for sentencing purposes. However, the trial court
erred in failing to impose a split-sentence for Hughes's
statutory rape conviction, as required by OCGA §
17-10-6.2. Accordingly, we affirm Hughes's conviction,
vacate his sentence, and remand for resentencing in
compliance with OCGA § 17-10-6.2.
in the light most favorable to the verdict,  the evidence
shows that Hughes is related by marriage to the family of the
victim's mother. In April 2011, when the victim was 13
years old, one of the victim's cousins used the
victim's telephone to ask Hughes to give them a car ride.
Before that time, the victim had few interactions with
Hughes. Shortly thereafter, Hughes and the victim began
exchanging text messages. Sometime between April and May
2011, the victim visited her cousin. After the cousin went to
bed, Hughes arrived, and he and the victim watched television
while exchanging text messages. At some point, Hughes walked
over to the victim, and the two engaged in sexual intercourse
on a sofa. The two engaged in intercourse several more times
between that night and the end of the school year, including
twice in Hughes's car. In April and May 2011, Hughes was
28 years old.
State also presented evidence that Hughes had engaged in
sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl in 2004, as a result
of which he had pled guilty to statutory rape. The victim in
that case - D. G. - testified that Hughes was a family friend
whom she met when he gave her and her brother a ride home. On
the day they met, at Hughes's request, he and D. G.
exchanged telephone numbers. Later that night, Hughes visited
D. G.'s home, and the two engaged in intercourse in
Hughes's truck. Hughes was 22 years old at the time.
jury found Hughes guilty of child molestation and statutory
rape. The trial court merged Hughes's child molestation
conviction into his statutory rape conviction and imposed a
20-year prison term for the statutory rape conviction. Hughes
filed a motion for a new trial, which the trial court denied,
and this appeal followed.
Hughes challenges the admission of evidence at trial that he
had sexual relations with a 14-year-old girl several years
earlier. In particular, Hughes contends that: (i) the trial
court erred when it improperly weighed the probative value of
the prior act evidence against its prejudicial effect; and
(ii) the prior act evidence was not needed to prove intent,
which, he claims, was "easily inferred." We discern
the State seeks to introduce prior acts of the defendant as
similar transaction evidence,
it first must identify a proper purpose for the admission of
such evidence, establish that the defendant, in fact,
committed the prior acts, and show enough of a similarity or
connection between the prior acts and the crimes charged that
proof of the former tends to prove the latter. Upon such a
showing, a trial court may admit evidence of a similar
transaction, unless the probative value of the evidence is
substantially outweighed by a risk that it would unfairly
prejudice the defendant. When we consider the admission of
similar transaction evidence, we focus on the similarities,
not the differences, between the prior acts and the crimes
charged, and we must bear in mind that the standard for the
admission of similar transaction evidence is most liberally
construed in cases involving sexual offenses.
Bibb v. State, 315 Ga.App. 49, 50 (2) (726 S.E.2d
534) (2012) (citations omitted); see also Mills v.
State, 319 Ga.App. 131, 133 (1) (735 S.E.2d 134) (2012)
(in prosecutions for sexual offenses involving children,
evidence that the defendant previously molested young
children or teenagers, regardless of the type of act, is
sufficiently similar to be admissible). We review a trial
court's decision whether to admit similar transaction
evidence for abuse of discretion. Bibb, 315 Ga.App.
at 50 (2).
first note that, in his appellate brief, Hughes at times
misstates the proper analysis by contending that a court must
determine "whether the probative worth of the evidence
outweighs its potential for undue prejudice." This is
not the law. The law mandates exclusion of otherwise
probative similar transaction evidence only if the risk of
unfair prejudice substantially outweighs its probative value.
See Bibb, 315 Ga.App. at 50 (2); accord Dillard
v. State, 297 Ga. 756, 758-760 (3) & n. 4 (778
S.E.2d 184) (2015); Jones v. State, 316 Ga.App. 442,
445 (2), 447 (2) (b) (729 S.E.2d 578) (2012). Put another
way, this test does not require exclusion where the risk of
unfair prejudice equals - or even slightly outweighs - the
probative value of the other acts evidence. See
Dillard, 297 Ga. at 758-760 (3); Jones, 316
Ga.App. at 445 (2), 447 (2) (b); Bibb, 315 Ga.App.
at 50 (2).
trial court here conducted a similar transaction hearing and
determined that the prior acts Hughes engaged in with D. G.
were admissible to prove his intent and to show that he
engaged in a common scheme or plan in the prior and charged
acts. The court gave a limiting instruction to this effect
before the similar transaction testimony was introduced and
in the court's final charge to the jury.
by the liberal standard applicable in cases involving sexual
offenses against children, " Kirkland v. State,
334 Ga.App. 26, 30 (1) (778 S.E.2d 42) (2015), we conclude
that, on the facts of this case, the trial court was
authorized to find that the risk of unfair prejudice did not
bar the admission of the other acts evidence. Pretermitting
whether Hughes's prior statutory rape conviction was
probative of intent in the instant case, it was relevant, as
the court found, to showing that Hughes engaged in a common
plan or scheme of (a) befriending young girls from families
he knew (b) by giving them rides and (c) engaging in sexual
relations with them in his vehicles. See Miller v.
State, 325 Ga.App. 764, 764-765, 768-769 (2) (b) (754
S.E.2d 804) (2014) (in a rape prosecution, the
defendant's prior rapes were relevant to show his course
of conduct, as the prior and charged offenses each began when
the defendant offered the victims rides in his truck); see
also Kirkland, 334 Ga.App. at 30 (1) (a similar
transaction was properly admitted in a prosecution for
aggravated child molestation where both the prior act and the
charged offense "involved instances where [the
defendant] preyed on young girls to whom he had access
because of his relationship with his girlfriend and her
family"). "Moreover, the trial court provided jury
instructions that limited consideration of the similar
transaction evidence to the appropriate purposes and provided
guidance so as to diminish its prejudicial impact."
Miller, 325 Ga.App. at 769 (2) (b); see
Mills, 319 Ga.App. at 135 (1) (in a prosecution for
several sexual offenses involving children, evidence that the
defendant previously had engaged in various acts of sexually
inappropriate conduct with other children "was not
unfairly prejudicial, in light of the trial court's
limiting instruction to the jury, and because the prior
transactions . . . corroborated the victims'
testimony") (punctuation omitted). Given the relevance
of the prior act evidence to show a common plan or scheme and
the trial court's multiple limiting instructions, we
conclude that the court did not abuse its discretion when it
determined that the danger of unfair prejudice did not
substantially outweigh the probative value of the challenged
Hughes contends that his sentence should be vacated and
remanded for the trial court to clarify that he stands
convicted only of statutory rape, as his child molestation