A former Alabama judge on trial for allegedly forcing inmates to perform sex acts in exchange for leniency was merely trying to mentor defendants, not take advantage of them, his defense attorney argues.
Defense attorney Robert Clark told WKRG-TV that the more than 50 counts of kidnapping, sexual abuse, extortion and sodomy against former Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas have no basis in truth.
"The whole thing is, he tried to help people in this community," Clark said. "He helped thousands to grow up and be productive citizens."
On Tuesday, as attorneys argued whether the jury should be allowed to consider kidnapping, extortion or assault charges, retired Marengo County Judge Claud Neilson dismissed jurors from the courtroom. Neilson already has ruled there is enough evidence for jurors to consider the sex abuse charges.
Thomas, 48, who has pleaded not guilty and has denied any wrongdoing, acknowledges that he brought the inmates into his office, Clark said. "He was mentoring them. He was trying to get them to do right, to be productive citizens."
One of the alleged victims testified Monday that he doesn't know why his semen was found on the carpet of a small room used as an office by Thomas, according to The Mobile Press-Register newspaper. But he did say Thomas spanked him with a belt on several occasions, the newspaper reported, and that the paddlings took place inside a jury room, in the small office and at a Mobile fraternity house.
Another man testified that after he was charged with kidnapping and robbery in 2002, Thomas visited him in jail and urged the man to let Thomas decide the case instead of a jury, according to the Press-Register. Thomas convicted him of lesser charges, he testified, and sentenced him to a 90-day boot camp. He said Thomas also beat him with a belt on his bare buttocks about a dozen times at the courthouse, the newspaper reported. Neither man was identified.
"All of them [the alleged victims] were given preferential treatment at some point," Nicki Patterson, chief assistant district attorney for Mobile County, told CNN earlier this month. "And ultimately, when some of them refused to continue participating [in the activities], they were given what I would view as excessive sentences. But certainly while the inmates were involved with the activities we allege, the state would say, it was extremely lenient sentences."
However, "two of the individuals said he [Thomas] did nothing bad to them," Clark said Tuesday. "That he didn't paddle them. That he only helped them. ... I mean, the last guy that testified was a murderer. And he's complaining he got assaulted. 'I got assaulted,' -- yeah, right."
Asked whether Thomas admits paddling the men, Clark said, "I didn't say either way. ... I'm saying there ain't no sexual innuendoes."
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