MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Kidnapping and extortion charges against a former Alabama judge were dismissed Wednesday, but a jury will deliberate the remaining felony counts accusing him of paddling and sexually abusing male inmates in return for leniency.
Circuit Judge Claud Neilson said jurors would hear closing arguments in the pared-down case against former Mobile Circuit Judge Herman Thomas on Thursday morning and begin deliberating later in the day.
Thomas, 48, was a community leader in Mobile, serving as a judge for 17 years, a trustee of two universities and an organizer of mentoring programs for youth. He resigned in 2007 when allegations surfaced that he spanked defendants with a wooden paddle. Then earlier this year a grand jury indicted him on charges that he physically and sexually abusing young male defendants in return for help with their cases.
He originally faced 103 charges involving 15 young men, but prosecutors dropped four of the men's cases during the trial, and the judge threw out all ethics charges against him because the statute of limitations expired.
On Wednesday, the judge dismissed kidnapping charges, saying accusations that Thomas took young men to a private courthouse office for paddlings didn't constitute kidnapping.
"I don't think kidnapping occurred in the Mobile County courthouse in a room that is unlocked," he said.
Neilson also threw out the extortion charges accusing Thomas of securing sexual favors from inmates in return for leniency. He said Alabama's law involves taking things of value permanently or for a long period, and taking sexual favors doesn't fit the definition of the law.
"How do you deprive someone permanently of sexual favors?" he asked prosecutors.
Defense attorney Jeff Deen said he was pleased that four-fifths of the original charges had been dismissed or thrown out, and only 21 charges remained.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Nicki Patterson said the jury would still consider very serious charges of assault, sexual abuse, attempted sodomy and sodomy. The last charge is the most serious and carries a sentence of 10 years to life in prison.
Thomas did not testify in his own defense during the trial. Defense attorney Robert "Cowboy Bob" Clark said there was no need because of the lack of credibility of Thomas' 11 accusers.
"They were a bunch of felonious liars," Clark said.
Instead of Thomas defending himself, the defense team spent two days presenting a Roman Catholic archbishop, two school principals, a kindergarten teacher and a coach who described how Thomas spent many hours speaking to school groups and mentoring young people, particularly those in trouble.
"What else do you want? You want the pope?" Clark told reporters outside the courtroom.