After Court Grants Disabled Vet New Trial, Sentencing Group Urges State to Dismiss Case
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: June 26, 2012
Contact: Monica Pratt Raffanel, firstname.lastname@example.org
GAINESVILLE, FL – FAMM Florida Project Director Greg Newburn today said he hopes that today’s decision by Judge Don H. Lester to grant Ronald Thompson a new trial and remain free pending trial will convince state prosecutors to dismiss the case against the 65-year-old, fully disabled veteran. Thompson was sentenced in 2010 to serve 20 years under Florida’s 10-20-Life gun law. FAMM learned of Mr. Thompson’s unjust sentence last month and had sought to convince state leaders to intervene.
“Ronald Thompson has already served three years in prison. He has been punished enough,” Newburn said. “He presents no threat to public safety. It makes no sense to have taxpayers pay for another trial to pursue this man. We hope the state will do the right thing, which is to dismiss these charges and let Ronald Thompson stay at home.”
In September 2009, Thompson was visiting an elderly friend in Keystone Heights, FL when the friend’s 17-year-old grandson and his friends came home and demanded entry into the family home. Acting at the direction of the boy’s mother, Thompson’s friend told the boy he was not permitted to enter. Her refusal prompted an angry outburst by the 17-year-old. Fearing that his friend was being threatened, Thompson, a lawful gun owner, fired two warning shots into the ground to scare away the boy, who left. The judge presiding over the case concluded that neither shot was intended to hit the boy.
Despite the fact that no one was injured, Thompson was charged with four counts of aggravated assault by State Attorney Angela Corey. A jury found that Mr. Thompson’s actions violated the state’s aggravated assault law, and because he discharged a gun, he faced a mandatory minimum prison term of 20 years under the 10-20-Life gun law. At sentencing, Judge John Skinner refused to impose the 20-year mandatory prison sentence, calling it “a crime in itself” and unconstitutional under Florida’s Constitution. Ms. Corey’s office appealed the sentence, and an appellate court imposed the 20-year mandatory minimum.
“The fundamental problem with mandatory minimum sentencing laws is that you cannot foresee every situation in which a zealous prosecutor might use them. With regard to 10-20-Life, now we know. Lawmakers need to reform the law immediately,” Newburn said.
Newburn said that he only learned of Mr. Thompson’s case after FAMM brought national attention to the case of Marissa Alexander. Mr. Thompson’s sentence is just the latest in a series of excessive, mandatory sentences imposed on individuals who sincerely believed they were acting in self-defense. Over the past few years, FAMM has highlighted the cases of:
- Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three who was sentenced last month to 20 years for firing a gun in her home to frighten away her abusive husband;
- Orville Lee Wollard, a SeaWorld employee and father of two who in 2009 was sentenced to 20 years after firing a gun into a wall of his home to stop his daughter’s boyfriend from further abusing her; and
- Erik Weyant, a 22-year-old man who fired shots into the air after being surrounded by a group of angry men outside a bar. Weyant was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2007.
Newburn said, “After Marissa Alexander was sentenced in May to 20 years, the author of the 10-20-Life law, former state senator Victor Crist, said hers was not the type of case the law was meant to cover. I have no doubt he would say the same about Ronald Thompson’s case - and Orville Wollard’s and Erik Weyant’s and others.
According to Newburn, the Thompson case is more disturbing than all of them. Mr. Thompson served 14 years in the U.S. Army. After leaving the military, Thompson accumulated more than 5,000 hours volunteering at the Lake City VA hospital and as a Deputy Representative of AMVETS.
Mr. Thompson’s sister, Virginia Caldwell, recently told FAMM that her brother’s already poor health has deteriorated since being incarcerated to the point that she does not expect him to live more than six months.
For more information on Mr. Thompson’s case, Florida’s 10-20-Life law, or any of the cases highlighted above, please check out FAMM’s website, www.famm.org, or contact FAMM Florida Project Director Greg Newburn at email@example.com.
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