Thursday, June 5, 2008

Florida: Request

William Thornton was 17 years old and had no valid driver's license when he ran a stop sign in 2004, collided with another vehicle and killed Brandon Mushlit and Sara Jo Williams. Thornton had no alcohol or drugs in his system at the time. Prosecutors charged Thornton as an adult with two counts of vehicular homicide and offered no plea deal. A public defender took no depositions, interviewed no witnesses, did not photograph or measure the scene, and made no challenge to the Florida Highway Patrol. Experts were not consulted. Thornton was simply encouraged to plead no contest and put his fate in the hands of Circuit Judge Ric Howard, who is said to be "known for tough punishments." It is also reported that the public defender assured Thornton that Judge Howard "would not give him the maximum sentence and would likely follow recommendations from the Department of Juvenile Justice for juvenile detention." The result: Thornton got a 30-year sentence!

Now, paperwork has been filed which seeks to set aside the conviction on the grounds of bad legal advice. There is an additional effort to disqualify Judge Howard from the case. As it happens, it is also an election year and Howard is facing opposition for the first time since becoming a judge in 2000. Meanwhile, there is an Internet petition drive asking the governor or clemency board to do something about the sentence. See story here.

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