CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury both resigned his elected office and pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal criminal charges.
Thornsbury, 57, of Williamson, turned in his resignation to the state Supreme Court Wednesday morning and then admitted before U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston a few hours later that he violated a man’s constitutional rights in an attempt to protect his close friend slain Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum.
Thornsbury admitted to being part of a conspiracy to pressure Delbarton drug dealer George White to change attorneys. White, after consulting with his first attorney, spoke with federal investigators about Sheriff Crum’s alleged illegal drug habits. White claimed he was Crum’s drug dealer.
The conversation came in the months after Crum led a drug bust at White’s Delbarton sign-making business. White claimed Crum was upset with him because White was trying to get money from the sheriff still owed him from making campaign signs.
Thornsbury promised a lighter sentence if White changed attorneys.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said what Thornsbury did more than crossed the line.
“To violate someone’s rights in order to obstruct a federal investigation….that’s really unthinkable,” Goodwin said.
Thornsbury, who has been Mingo County’s only circuit judge since 1997, told the court he took the action because he wanted to protect Crum. Crum was shot and killed last April, his widow Rosie was in the courtroom Wednesday. Goodwin said afterward federal prosecutors have no evidence linking Thornsbury to Crum’s death.
Thornsbury will face up to 10 years in federal prison at his Jan. 13 sentencing but Goodwin said he could get a lot less.
“It depends on how much he cooperates (with the ongoing federal corruption investigation). It depends on if he has fully accepted the responsibility for his crimes,” Goodwin said.
Thornsbury has been granted limited immunity. Goodwin said federal prosecutors can’t use anything the former judge tells them against him in the ongoing investigation.
Thornsbury agreed to resign and also not to fight losing his law license. He could reapply in five years. Thornsbury has also agreed never again to seek political office.