CHARLESTON, W.Va. – U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston told former Mingo County Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury that he along with his “cronies” took away the constitutional rights of a Delbarton man and in doing so made government “unrecognizable” in Mingo County.
Johnston went beyond the sentencing guidelines and ordered Thornsbury to federal prison for 50 months during a Monday afternoon hearing in Charleston.
The judge called Thornsbury’s conduct “appalling and unacceptable.”
As the only circuit judge in Mingo County, Thornsbury agreed to a plan to force sign maker George White to switch attorneys to protect former Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum from a federal investigation. White switched attorneys and pleaded guilty to a drug charge in hopes of a lighter sentence. He spent nearly 300 days in jail.
During his apology to the court Monday, Thornsbury said he regretted the “30 second conversation” he had with Crum when he agreed to the deal.
“It’s with me every waking minute. I failed. I failed,” Thornsbury said.
But Judge Johnston said Thornsbury conduct went beyond those 30 seconds.
“It’s important for this sentence to send a message,” he said.
The judge reviewed other charges against Thornsbury that included having his secretary’s husband arrested on a drug charge because she rejected the judge’s advances. Johnston said Thornsbury abused his power as a judge and operated the courthouse in Williamson “like the regime of a 3rd World dictator.”
The sentencing guidelines called for a 30-37 months in prison and with a 10-month reduction for cooperating with investigators, Thornsbury faced 20-27 months but Judge Johnston doubled that time with a 50-month sentence and said it would have been 60 months without the cooperation.
“Mr. Thornsbury’s conduct was shocking and appalling, really,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said. “It really cried out for a stiff sentence. The court does this every day and he can see hollow words and he can see what was actually the case here.”
Goodwin said he agrees with the stiffer sentence because Thornsbury was an officer of the court.
“He holds justice in his hands and that system was compromised in this case,” he said.
Federal prosecutors did tell the court it was Thornsbury’s information and agreement to testify that was significant in the guilty pleas of former Mingo County Commissioner Dave Baisden and former Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks. Sparks will be sentenced next week.
Thornsbury, who had his law license stripped and lost his state pension as part of the conviction, spoke for several minutes. He described himself as having “misguided loyalties with selfishness and pride.” He said he’d been in self-imprisonment for the last several months.
“I offer my sincere apologies. I would take it back 10,000 times over if I could. I ask for forgiveness for everyone impacted,” he said. “I’m flawed. I showed weakness. I should have and could have stopped the change of counsel. I was wrong as wrong could be.”
Thornbury’s attorneys pointed out his years of work in the community with youth programs asking the judge for a lighter sentence so he could begin to rebuild his life but Judge Johnston refused saying Thornsbury’s good works were “completely overshadowed” by his other actions.
Thornsbury will self-report to federal prison. He’s asked to be sent to federal work camps in either Pensacola, Fla., or Montgomery, Alabama. He’ll be on supervised release for three years after his 50-month sentence.