CAMDEN, Ala. (AP) — Former state Rep. James Thomas has been convicted of having sexual contact with a student, but acquitted of a felony sexual abuse charge.
The victim, now a 19-year-old college student, testified that Thomas, 69, kissed her and forced her to touch his “private parts” in his office at Wilcox-Central High School in Camden in November 2010.
|CONVICTED–Former state Rep. James Thomas is pictured Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012 during his sexual abuse trial in Camden, Ala.
Circuit Judge Jack Meigs ordered Thomas immediately taken into custody and set sentencing for Dec. 13.
Thomas’ attorney, Lewis Gillis of Montgomery, said he will ask the judge to reconsider his decision.
“He has never exhibited that he is a risk of flight. He has a number of health issues,” Gillis said. He said he felt Thomas’s age and health issues would put a strain on the small jail in a rural county.
Gillis said he thought the split verdict was a compromise between jurors who wanted to find Thomas innocent of all charges and those who wanted to convict him of the felony charge. He said he will talk with his client about whether to appeal.
District Attorney Michael Jackson said Thomas will have to register as a sex offender and won’t be able to continue as principal. He has been on administrative leave for the past two years while he awaited trial.
“This will take him out of the school system for good,” Jackson said.
Thomas served 28 years in the Alabama House representing Wilcox, Dallas, Lowndes and Autauga County before being defeated in the 2010 Democratic Primary. His prosecution is partly based on a law the Legislature passed in 2010 making it a crime for educators to have sexual contact with a student under 19-years-old.
Thomas voted for the legislation when it passed the Alabama House unanimously.
Members of the victim’s family, who sat in the courtroom throughout the three-day trial, clapped when the verdict was announced.
The Associated Press generally doesn’t name alleged victims of sexual abuse.
Jurors started deliberating Thursday afternoon. After about an hour of deliberations, the jury told the judge they were having difficulty reaching a decision but were told to keep working. After considering the case for 2 ½ hours Thursday, the panel left for the day and came back Friday morning.
In closing arguments, Jackson repeated the woman’s testimony.
“You can’t do that to a child,” Jackson told jurors.
Gillis said parts of the woman’s testimony were inconsistent with her earlier statements and with other witnesses. He said the state never proved its case.