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A Times Editorial

A chance to reverse an injustice

The governor and Cabinet will use their final meeting as the Clemency Board next week to consider pardoning the late rocker Jim Morrison, who allegedly exposed himself to a Miami audience four decades ago. That's fine — but they also should correct a greater miscarriage of justice.

Citrus County Circuit Judge Ric Howard sentenced Michael Thornton to prison for 30 years in 2004 after finding him guilty of pawning jewelry and coins from a psychiatrist whose lawn he cut. Thornton insists the doctor gave him the valuables. He declined a jury trial and put his faith in Howard, who brushed aside the facts that Thornton had turned his life around, started a business and worked with a ministry after a string of old arrests related to a drug problem.

Thornton is not asking the clemency board to reconsider his guilt or the judge's findings. The issue is whether this nonviolent property crime merits 30 years in prison. Had Thornton accepted a plea deal, he would have served about two years under the sentencing guidelines. He already has served three times that long and would not be released until 2032. It makes no sense for taxpayers to spend more than $340,000 over the next 22 years to keep this man in prison.

But the real issue is justice, not money or mercy. Howard is the same judge who sentenced Thornton's son to 30 years in prison for his part in a deadly traffic accident in 2004, a case so riddled with errors that the Florida courts stepped in and vacated the sentence. The state should find a way to ensure that two generations of one family are not unfairly treated by the same judge. Any member of the Clemency Board can put Thornton on the agenda before the Dec. 9 meeting. He deserves at least as much consideration as Jim Morrison.

A chance to reverse an injustice 12/01/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 1, 2010 6:57pm]
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