The third day of Herman Thomas' trial opened with the testimony of a man who said the beatings given to him by the ex-circuit court judge emasculated him even as he was willing to take more to get out of jail.
"The whippings hurt and they made me feel like less of a man. But I would have taken another one anytime to get out of jail," Witness Three told the jury Wednesday morning.
The alleged victim told the jury on Tuesday that Thomas had severely beaten him with both a belt and wooden fraternity-style paddle on a few occasions, and had rubbed his buttocks with his hand. He reiterated those statements Wednesday, and also restated his claim Thomas had once grabbed his crotch during a car ride, then put the witness' hand on his own crotch.
Former Mobile Circuit Court Judge Thomas is on trial on more than 60 criminal counts, ranging from kidnapping to extortion to assault and sodomy. He is alleged to have used his position to dangle reduced sentences in front of criminal defendants in order to get them to go along with the beatings and sexual advances.
Witness Three told the jury Thomas had given him 20 years in prison because he refused the sexual advances, and argued the point when defense attorney Robert "Cowboy Bob" Clark accused him of attempting to manipulate the criminal justice system.
"I would have never got those 20 years if I'd ever complied with the corporal punishment-slash-sexual acts he wanted," Witness Three said. Later he added, "I wasn't playing the system, the system was playing me."
He said he had told Thomas he was going to hire attorney David Barnett to represent him, but that the judge became angry about that and instead wanted him to accept an appointed attorney.
"He told me a lawyer would do me no good in his courtroom. I told him I was going to hire David Barnett and he got mad and said, 'Suit yourself.' I asked him if he was in my situation what would you do? He said, 'I just said I would appoint an attorney.' And that's how I got Brandyburg," Witness Three said.
The alleged victim was speaking about attorney James Brandyburg, who is a fellow fraternity brother of Thomas' in the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, where they both serve in leadership roles. Brandyburg also invited Thomas to work with his firm after the judge left resigned his office in 2007. An earlier witness also testified that Thomas appointed Brandyburg to represent him.
Witness Three also described the paddle Thomas allegedly used as carrying the fraternity emblem.
The witness also told jurors he tried to hide from Thomas, who he said, "popped up" everywhere he was hanging out, following him all over town. He told the jury he tried to disappear while on probation in order to keep Thomas from following him.
"I was going on the run because he was following me around," he said. "The whipping mattered, but the main reason (I ran) was because he was following me around. He was depriving me of my life."
Prosecutor Martha Tierney also introduced a number of letters written from the alleged victim to Thomas asking for his help in getting out of jail. Most of them were written in 2005. Witness Three paraphrased one of the letters as referring to a time Thomas had expressed love for him.
"Basically I was saying, 'I remember when you told me you were going to help me and that you loved me.' It was just one time, when he hugged me," he testified.
The man also testified Thomas had asked him multiple times to go on trips out of town and to play tennis with him.
"I didn't go play tennis. My thoughts of tennis players was guys in little-bitty shorts," Witness Three said, causing laughter throughout the crowded courtroom.
The witness' mother also took the stand Wednesday morning, saying she had at-first doubted her son's story of being whipped by the judge, but later came to believe it. She told how Thomas helped her get a job at Mobile County Metro Jail after her business failed, and she was able to observe him meeting with prisoners - as well as leaving with them.
The woman worked in the control area, or camera room, which occasionally gave her a view of the docket room where witnesses have claimed Thomas would meet them, or collect them for rides to his offices at Government Plaza. The witness' mother said on several occasions she saw Thomas meet with prisoners and on other occasions she saw him leave with them. She made notes about the dates and which prisoners left in a small Sheriff's Office-issued calendar, which was entered into evidence.
"When little things would happen on the job, I would make little notes; things I didn't particularly care for," she said.
At one point, she said, she mentioned the whippings to a fellow employee who she claimed told Thomas. She said Thomas called her at work and confronted her as to why she would say such things, then told her he would never spank her child again.
The morning continued with Beth Drude, an assistant to Circuit Court Judge Rick Stout, who told of finding a box full of letters - "jail mail" - Thomas had apparently received from prisoners over the years. The box was found in January 2008, months after Thomas left the bench. Drude said there were "hundreds of them," and that she had stumbled across them while trying to find creamer and sugar for a jury.
"They had all been opened," she testified. She also said it was not uncommon for judges to get letters from prisoners.
The morning ended with Mary Foster, who works in the Circuit Clerk's office, criminal division, explaining the particulars of a particular prisoner's file and how it appeared Thomas had repeatedly put the prisoner on probation even though he failed to live up to the terms of his probation or did not show up for court.
At times during the morning, Clark became rather testy with prosecutors, getting into a bit of an argument with Tierney over various points of law. He eventually apologized to the judge and jury for getting, "wound up."
Clark's testy mannerisms were apparent throughout the afternoon as well, when Witness Four, who has an IQ of 55 and receives disability for seizures and ulcers, took the stand.
Witness Four told jurors how he had met Thomas after being charged with receiving stolen property. He described his interaction with Thomas as "positive, the first time," as his then-father-in-law had instructed him to go see the judge. It was two months before he would Thomas again, he said.
After two months had passed, Witness Four said he failed to report to his probation officer, a fact his probation officer confirmed in testimony before Witness Four took the stand. Witness Four said he never pleaded guilty to his stolen property charge and never wanted to, but did, and received a 10-year split sentence for his crime.
After serving his three months in jail, Witness Four said he recalled going to see his probation officer and then going to the eighth floor of Government Plaza to place a note underneath Thomas's office door.
After catching the attention of the law once again, Witness Four said he was processed and jailed for a short time yet again. When he got out he said he talked with Thomas who told him to come get a paddling.
Witness Four said he and the judge, "had a good conversation," before Thomas gave him "five or six licks" with his pants down and his boxers on.
"Did it hurt?" prosecutor Barry Matson asked. "Yes sir," Witness Four replied before telling Matson and the jury the paddle had come from a filing cabinet in a small office just off the main hallway.
Witness Four got caught up in the alleged cycle yet again a short time after walking home a mile-and-a-half from his first paddling.
"I got caught on a marijuana case," he said.
Witness Four's father-in-law bonded him out of the marijuana charge and told him to go see judge Thomas again, he said, adding that one week later a warrant for his arrest had been issued. Around that time he said he saw Thomas in his neighborhood.
"He was ridin'," Witness Four said. "We waved," he added, before being picked up and doing another short stint in metro.
During his incarceration, Witness Four said his parents talked with Thomas and shortly after, the judge got him a job at a Mobile area Krystal. Shortly after, the cycle continued yet again, when he was processed again for a similar crime. This time, he said, his encounter with Thomas escalated.
After being let out of jail for reasons he didn't understand, Witness Four said he was told to see Thomas at his eighth floor offices, where he said he would receive another five-to-six lick paddling. But, when he turned around after a particular hard whipping, Witness Four remembered seeing something he hadn't before. Thomas's pants were half down exposing his private parts.
"His penis was exposed," Matson stated.
"Yes sir," Witness Four replied.
But Thomas intended to do more with his exposed privates, Witness Four claimed.
Witness Four recalled Thomas holding something that resembled "a KY bottle" as he had his head turned and then, he claimed, Thomas pulled him toward his person forcing Witness Four's mouth to touch Thomas's penis. Witness Four then claimed he tried to touch him, "but then I ran out the door."
In stark contrast to other alleged victims' stories, Witness Four said Thomas never came to pick him up at the jail.
As the prosecution appeared to have ended their examination, Clark entered what became a long and, at times, confusing cross-examination.
Referring to a statement Witness Four gave to detectives on Aug. 20 of this year, Clark said, "something is wrong," before pointing to inconsistencies in statements Witness Four had given detectives and the answers he had given to prosecutors less than an hour before cross-examination began.
Clark's questioning focused on Witness Four not mentioning his second run in with Thomas, when his mouth allegedly made contact with the judge's penis.
"The statement says you ran out of the room," Clark said before noting that he didn't mention anything to detectives that could be classified as sodomy.
"I know what I said, sir," Witness Four said of the interview.
As Clark persisted, Witness Four responded with statements ranging from, "I know what I did though," to "I can't read that good, sir," when Clark asked him to read a statement the transcript contained.
When it came time for the prosecution to respond to Clark's questioning, Matson made the distinction between two interviews that had been conducted with Witness Four. One of those interviews was conducted with FBI agents at the home where Witness Four resides. Matson said the alleged victim "said he was paddled twice both times."
Witness Four, after roughly two hours of questioning by both sides, left the courtroom looking exhausted and confused and just 15 minutes before the conclusion of the day's proceedings, Witness Five was brought to the stand in his prison browns. He disclosed to the jury that he had begun his contact with Thomas as the result of a cocaine charge.
When prosecutor Martha Tierney asked Victim Five how his case, which had originally been assigned to Judge Teddy McDermott, landed on Thomas's docket, Witness Five responded, "I can only guess" before the defense stated their objection.
Witness Five told the jury he had been to Thomas's "little room" two or three times where he was spanked on his bare bottom seven to eight times.
The Thomas Trial is expected to reconvene at 9 a.m. Thursday per Special Judge Claud Neilson's instructions. Witness Five will finish his testimony at Government Plaza courtroom 4500 at that time.