Ala. judge cleared of sex abuse in inmate spanking
By Philip Rawls, Associated Press Writer October 26, 2009

MOBILE, Ala. A former Alabama judge was cleared Monday of charges that he spanked and sexually abused male inmates.

Former Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas was found not guilty on seven counts after more than a week of testimony. Judge Claud Neilson threw out the remaining 14 charges.

Thomas wept and hugged his wife and supporters after the judge threw out the remaining charges. He left court without comment. As he left, one supporter threw her hands in the air and shouted, "Thank you Jesus." Other supporters gathered in a circle to pray.

Defense attorneys had painted the 48-year-old as a prominent civic leader who became a victim of felons who lied about him to manipulate the court system.

Prosecutors said Thomas brought 11 young male inmates to a private courthouse office and severely paddled their bare bottoms for sexual gratification. Some of the inmates testified they had sexual contact with the judge.

Defense attorney Jeff Deen said Neilson's decision to toss the remaining charges was not surprising because the jurors had acquitted Thomas on every charge where they could reach a .unanimous decision.

Deen said Thomas' next goal is to regain his law license, which has been suspended by the Alabama State Bar. That could take months, Deen said.

District Attorney John Tyson said, "We are extremely disappointed. We worked very hard in this case and we did what we thought was the right thing." He said it was a difficult case because young men with criminal records were testifying against a well-known community leader, and the jury verdict reflected that.

"We went with the people we had," he said.

Carol Meeks of Mobile, a Thomas supporter who sat through the three-week trial, said she agreed with defense attorneys that Thomas was targeted by lying felons.

"He's a very good man and he's done a lot for this community. We need more people like him who look out for young people in our community," she said.

The jury of seven women and five men heard seven days of testimony before beginning deliberations late Thursday afternoon over charges of sex abuse, second-degree assault, sodomy and attempted sodomy.

Before the trial, prosecutors indicated that other inmates had been spanked, but were not included in the charges against the judge. Tyson said he has no plans to try to bring additional charges involving other young inmates.

Judge Neilson said he threw out charges of second-degree assault because the assault must be committed with a dangerous weapon or instrument. "The use of a paddle or belt in this case is not a dangerous weapon," he said.

He said prosecutors lacked evidence to support the sex abuse and attempted sodomy charges.

Early in the trial, Neilson told prosecutors he did not think they had brought the correct charges. When he threw out the remaining assault charges Monday, he said he probably should have dismissed them before sending the case to the jury, but he felt the jury should review them.

During closing arguments, prosecutor Nicki Patterson portrayed Thomas as a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" figure who carefully crafted an image as a mentor to troubled youth, while secretly paddling and sexually abusing young inmates for pleasure.

Defense attorney Robert "Cowboy Bob" Clark described Thomas as the victim of lying felons.

"He ain't no pervert," Clark told the jury in closing arguments.

Thomas was a Mobile County judge for 17 years, so popular that Alabama's top Democrats once recommended him to become the first black federal judge in south Alabama. He was one of the most well known men in Mobile, serving as trustee of two colleges, frequently speaking to church and youth groups and organizing mentoring programs for young people.

He resigned his judgeship in 2007 after a state judicial panel accused him of unethical conduct. A grand jury indicted him in the spring on felony charges accusing him of severely paddling and sexually abusing young men who appeared before him in court.

Some of the men testified he picked them up at jail, took them to a private office in the courthouse and gave them the choice of going back to jail or going free by taking a paddling with their pants and underwear down. They said they complied and took several strikes from the judge.

Some men testified they turned around during the paddlings to see the judge sexually aroused or exposed. One testified the judge made him masturbate, and a forensic scientist reported finding the man's semen on the judge's carpet. Another former inmate said the judge tried to force him to have oral sex.

The defense presented a Roman Catholic archbishop, a youth minister and two school principals who described Thomas' many hours of youth work.

"For that good deed, he gets a 103-count indictment," Clark said.

Those 103 counts were reduced by four-fifths before the case went to the jury because the prosecution dropped charges involving four of the 15 men named in the indictment and the judge threw out all extortion, kidnapping and ethics charges.

District Attorney Says Herman Thomas Case Is Not Over
By Jessica Taloney, News, October 27, 2009

MOBILE, Alabama - 6:15 p.m. District Attorney John Tyson, Jr. says he plans to file motions in the case, as early as tomorrow morning.

Tyson made the announcement after meeting with three jurors who say the verdict the judge read was not the one they agreed to.

12:05 p.m. Three jurors in the sex abuse trial involving a former circuit court judge are disputing the verdict.

Herman Thomas, 48, was found not guilty Monday on 21 charges of sex abuse, sodomy and assault, but at least three jurors have contacted District Attorney John Tyson saying that was not their verdict.

The jurors say the vote was not unanimous.

One juror, who insists he voted guilty on all but two charges, says he was "shocked" when the verdict was read aloud. "We were railroaded," said the juror, who declined to comment any further until after he meets with the district attorney this afternoon.

According to the verdict read Monday afternoon by Special Judge Claud Neilson, the jury found Thomas not guilty on five counts of sex abuse, one count of sodomy and one count of 2nd degree assault. Jurors left the remaining 14 charges undecided. Jurors were then dismissed from the courtroom as Neilson ruled in favor of a defense motion to acquit Thomas on the remaining counts.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Nicki Patterson declined to comment, but confirmed a meeting is scheduled with the jurors.

Reader's comment

Many people around the world will be amazed by this story. But for those who know how ingrained paddling and "whupping" is in Alabama's culture, it's less of a surprise. After all, what other state has special laws not only shielding schools from civil liability over the injurious paddling of students, but also exempting teachers from child abuse statutes?

Just imagine if Thomas, instead of pursuing a career in law, had decided to become a high school principal. He could have spanked young men on a regular basis--not only legally, but with the full support of the community.

Making them drop their drawers for the punishment might cross an unspoken line, I suppose, but I defy anyone to cite a law or school board policy that it would categorically violate. Besides, any predator worth his salt can discern which kids will be too intimidated to refuse such an order, or easily manipulated into going along with it, or possibly conditioned to accept it because they get the same treatment at home.

Victims would likely be too humiliated and self-blaming to want to tell anyone, at least not before considerable time has passed, accusations would seem belated, and it seems easiest to just try to move on. And if a teacher was found undeniably to have given some bare-butt paddlings, the school district would typically circle the wagons to defend him (absent less ambiguous forms of sexual abuse--to which spanking is sometimes a gateway).

Tom Johnson
October 26, 2009

See related:
Thomas Juror Speaks Out, By Peter Teske, Web Exclusive,, October 29, 2009

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