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Father who beat boys sentenced to prison time

A Tampa man who pleaded guilty to beating two boys with a wet leather belt and videotaping his actions told a judge Wednesday it was an act of family discipline gone bad.

"I apologize to my boys if I did it wrong," said truck driver Thomas Tillman, 32. "I'm a father, not a criminal."

The judge might have agreed and given Tillman a sentence short of prison time for two counts of aggravated child abuse but for his history.

Court testimony included a former wife's restraining order and an outstanding warrant for not showing up for a weekend jail stint in California.

"I'm not putting you on the street in this community because I have no confidence that you will listen to what I say," said Hillsborough Circuit Judge Barbara Fleischer. She then sentenced him to five years in prison, two years of house arrest and a year of probation that will include family violence diversion classes.

"I really don't believe your purpose was to abuse these children," Fleischer said. "Did you abuse them? Yes."

In March, Tillman's then-wife, Eugenett Houston, gave authorities a videotape of the beating.

The tape, labeled "Family Session," shows the boys, Tillman's 16-year-old and Houston's 9-year-old, stripped below the waist with their hands and feet bound with rope as Tillman hit them.

"We're asking that the court break the cycle, not by incarceration but by education," said Tillman's attorney, John Kromholz.

Tillman said he was trying to discipline his son, who was "beginning to act like a thug." He said the camera was there from a family karaoke session.

But prosecutor Rick Leal said Tillman should not be used as an example for parents struggling with the issue of corporal punishment.

"Their misbehavior did not warrant this malicious punishment," he said.