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After son's 30-year term is reduced, father hopes for similar relief from a harsh sentence

In April, a kid who went to prison officially became a free man.

A teenager named William Thornton had been handed a 30-year sentence by a system that didn't seem to care about things like a vigorous defense or a knowingly entered plea. But people fought for him, someone who could have easily disappeared without much notice beyond a family who loved him.

Now, the father.

Before William went to prison, his father Michael Thornton stood before the same circuit judge who would sentence his son. The father was accused of stealing from a doctor who hired him for lawn and maintenance work.

He said he had been offered two years in prison. He opted for a trial, one without a jury on his lawyer's advice, he said. Judge Ric Howard hammered him with 30 years.

Thirty years.

Like father, like son.

From prison, he maintains he stole nothing. But even if you looked at all the evidence and decided he was a thief, that's 30 years for a property crime.

Nobody dead, no one even hurt. Rapists and murderers have gotten less.

The judge has since said what he gave the son had nothing to do with the father. At the son's sentencing, the judge mentioned the father in prison, though he later said he didn't recall the specific case at the time.

Maybe you remember the story of the son, William.

He was 17 when he was driving a darkened road without a license in Citrus County, skidded through a stop sign at a badly lit intersection and into the path of another driver.

Both people in the other car were killed. It was a terrible, terrible tragedy.

The teenager relied on advice from his public defender and entered a plea, believing he would get probation or juvenile sanctions.

Thirty years, Judge Howard said.

He could so easily have been swallowed by the system, but people read about him in the newspaper, and a tenacious lawyer took his case. At 21, after serving three years and seven months in prison, William Thornton is out on probation.

Now, the father.

His is a thornier case, to be sure. Michael Thornton had previous arrests involving stolen credit cards and bounced checks, though none for years. He joined a ministry that helps ex-offenders and said he changed his life.

He says the doctor he worked for gave him the jewelry as a donation for the church, that he didn't steal anything. The doctor says that while he had donated things, furniture mostly, he absolutely did not give Thornton his wife's jewelry.

But even the doctor said he was stunned by the sentence, though he didn't know of Thornton's previous arrests at the time.

Michael Thornton has served five years. Now he is asking to have his sentence commuted, hoping for a break. The process is lengthy, the final decision to be made by the governor and members of the state Cabinet.

When the son was in prison, he would draw pictures to pass the time. They were startlingly detailed, startlingly good. One showed a tidy house, a place that couldn't have been further away from where he was.

The son, as it turns out, got his artistic talents from his dad.

Maybe the father will get hope from his son.

After son's 30-year term is reduced, father hopes for similar relief from a harsh sentence 07/09/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 1:03pm]
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