Sentencing more than a message

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Lawyers are rarely at a loss for words at the sentencing phase of any trial.

But one of our nation’s most renown trial lawyers, better known as President Lincoln, may have said it best.

“He reminds me of the man who murdered both his parents, and then when sentence was about to be pronounced pleaded for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan.”

That describes former Mingo County Circuit Court Judge Michael Thornsbury’s apology before his sentencing on a corruption charge recently to the letter.

Thornsbury was sentenced to a 50-month prison sentence earlier this month by U.S. District Judge Thomas.

The word corruption hardly does justice to Thornsbury’s abuse of power as the only circuit judge in Mingo County.

That corruption charge involved a deal to go along with a plot to protect the late sheriff of that county from a federal investigation.

A man who was telling FBI agents he was selling drugs to that sheriff would eventually spend 300 days in jail as a result of that plot.

Thornsbury’s plea agreement with federal prosecutors called for a guilty plea to that charge in return for dropping an unrelated charge.

Prosecutors alleged that Thornsbury also violated the constitutional rights of his former secretary’s husband by trying to land him in jail on trumped-up charges so the judge could be in a relationship with his secretary.

Last week, Thornsbury appealed his prison sentence to the corruption charge. Apparently, he was expecting a much lighter sentence in return for his guilty plea.

But U.S. District Judge Johnston went well beyond federal sentencing guidelines. Those guidelines called for 30-37 months in prison with a 10-month reduction for cooperating with investigators.

Johnston said the sentence would have been 60 months without Thornsbury’s cooperation.

We rarely comment on the outcome of trials and the sentencing phase if a jury opts to convict.

We ’re not setting any precedents, either, but we applaud the U.S. District Court for serving up some justice to a judicial regime whose abuse of power rivaled that of a “Third World dictator.”

Many lately may have thought that Mingo County had the monopoly on corruption in West Virginia, if not the nation. But we beg to differ.

Though esteem for officers of our courts and public officials is usually not misplaced, abuse of power is not uncommon, either.

Sentences such as that of Thornsbury’s do not just send a message.

They assure justice has the last word, no matter who violates the law or the public’s trust.

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