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Thornsbury’s lawyers say his help should lessen sentence

CHRIS DORST | Gazette file photo Former Mingo County circuit judge Michael Thornsbury (right) leaves the federal courthouse in Charleston with his attorney, Steve Jory, in August 2013.

A judge should consider the amount of information former Mingo County circuit judge Michael Thornsbury gave to federal prosecutors before the judge sentences him, Thornsbury’s attorneys say.

In a sentencing memorandum filed Monday evening, an attorney for the ex-judge wrote that federal prosecutors are expected to acknowledge Thornsbury’s cooperation when U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston sentences him June 9.

Not including any credit for helping prosecutors, federal advisory sentencing guidelines call for Thornsbury to face between 30 to 37 months in prison for conspiring to deprive a man of his constitutional rights, a felony. The charge carries a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

An entire section in Thornsbury’s sentencing memorandum is dedicated to “substantial assistance.”

“Being cognizant of the crime that he had committed and need to atone for his conduct, Thornsbury cooperated with the government and provided substantial assistance which led to the convictions of other individuals,” wrote Thornsbury’s attorney, Steve Jory.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby wrote in his own sentencing memorandum filed late Monday that a “lengthy term of imprisonment is in order” for Thornsbury, whose “conduct was coldly strategic, calculated to preserve his power and advance his long-term interests.”

Thornsbury’s sentencing has been delayed several times. In December, Ruby filed a motion asking that the sentencing be put on hold while Thornsbury provided information about “activities the United States in now investigating.”

The filing Monday by Thornsbury’s attorney states that the ex-judge has provided “information across a broad spectrum of investigative interest. Additionally, at the request of investigating agents, Thornsbury provided information used by the government at a previous sentencing hearing.”

Thornsbury, who had served as the county’s only circuit judge since 1997, resigned as part of his plea deal with prosecutors. According to the federal charge against Thornsbury, late Mingo sheriff Eugene Crum -- described in the charge as “a close associate and political ally” of Thornsbury -- bought several thousand dollars’ worth of signs and other promotional campaign items on credit from George White’s sign shop in Delbarton. After Crum was elected sheriff, instead of paying his $3,000 bill, he allegedly sent an undercover police officer to buy oxycodone tablets from George White.

After White’s arrest, federal investigators approached his lawyer, former Williamson mayor Charles “Butch” West, and asked to talk to White about allegations that he provided drugs to Crum. White told FBI agents that, on “multiple occasions prior to his arrest, he unlawfully provided Crum with prescription narcotic pills at Crum’s request,” prosecutors said. Federal prosecutors said Crum soon learned what White had told FBI agents and that a meeting was arranged with White’s brother. Prosecutors said Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden, Prosecuting Attorney Michael Sparks and Crum devised a scheme to get White to switch attorneys, in exchange for a lighter sentence from Thornsbury.

Senior Status Circuit Judge John Cummings vacated White’s conviction and dismissed the charges with prejudice earlier this year. Sparks and Baisden have since resigned as part of plea deals with federal prosecutors. Crum was shot to death in his police cruiser in April 2013.

If Johnston approves Thornsbury’s plea agreement on Monday, prosecutors will dismiss charges that the ex-judge violated the constitutional rights of his former secretary’s husband by trying to land him in jail on trumped-up charges. He was indicted on that charge last August.

Federal prosecutors wrote that the facts contained in the charge “largely speak for themselves with respect to the sort of sentence needed in this case.”

Thornsbury “has done damage to the legitimacy of Mingo County’s judicial system that will take decades to fully repair,” Ruby wrote.

The assistant U.S. attorney continued, “past prison sentences have proved insufficient to deter public corruption in Mingo County and southern West Virginia. Crooked officeholders in this district apparently need to see harsher consequences before they will respect the law.

“And [Thornsbury’s] own history of abusing his office, evidence of which is set forth for the Court in more detail elsewhere, further warrants a sentence of notable weight,” Ruby wrote.

Sentencing calculations give more time for a defendant who violated someone’s rights as a public official.

However, “that enhancement applies to public officials of any rank, down to a rookie police officer on the beat. It does not begin to capture the significance of this Defendant’s abuse of public office.” Ruby’s sentencing memorandum states.

Jory, however, wrote that Thornsbury has already been stripped of his law license and pension. Thornsbury’s wife, Drema, divorced him immediately after his felony conviction.

Also, Jory wrote, “ an arsonist sent a message to Thornsbury by burning down his parent’s home place, knowing that of all his personal possessions, it was that home to which he frequently retreated for quiet contemplation that was his most precious physical asset.”

Reach Kate White at or 304-348-1723.

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