*Editor's Note: Lagniappe felt not naming state senator Vivian Davis Figures and her son Akil's involvement in the case against Herman Thomas would be a massive distortion of the story. There is no way to cover this accurately and fairly without naming them and explaining their roles in this case. We felt to do otherwise would be a disservice to our readership. However, in cases where the victim's identity does not affect the coverage or cause such a distortion, we will continue to withhold their names.*
State Sen. Vivian Davis Figures and her son Akil dominated day five of the Herman Thomas trial, as prosecutors tried to show how the ex-judge went out of his way to help the son of the prominent lawmaker.
The day started with Akil Figures on the stand under cross-examination by defense attorney Jeff Deen, who went through a lengthy and complex description of Figures vast number of run-ins with the law and multitude of incarcerations. At one point, Special Judge Claud Neilson even told Deen to hurry up with his questioning because it was running over the same ground again and again.
"We've got a long way to go," Neilson said.
Deen tried to show inconsistencies between the timeline of things Figures had said on Thursday and records showing his actual arrest and incarceration dates. Moving his head from side-to-side and leaning back in his chair, Figures muttering was barely audible to those assembled in the courtroom, but he stuck to his story that Thomas had paddled his naked posterior one time, and that he was fearful of him. Friday he clarified that his fear was that Thomas would send him back to jail - not spanking.
Deen even presented letters written to Thomas by Figures while he was in jail, asking for the ex-Circuit Judge to help get him out of jail, and that he would take another whipping, but the judge never came to see him. Thursday, Figures' mother, Vivian, testified Thomas had once asked if he could spank Akil and she had consented.
One letter read, "That night you whipped me I felt less than a man. But I'm not mad now. I understand what you were trying to do." Figures has vehemently denied any sexual contact with Thomas.
Also called to the witness stand was retired Judicial Police Officer John King, who worked as a warrant officer for the Drug Court, but also spent some time working in the Mobile County Courthouse. He described how on at least 10 occasions, individual young, black men would show up around 6:45 in the morning - before the courthouse is open to general staff - and would request to see Thomas.
King said the first time it happened, he laughed to himself thinking the young man was confused about the time, because it would have been so unusual for someone to see a judge at that time of day. But when a call was made to ensure there was an appointment, Thomas cleared it. King said he escorted the young man upstairs and was sure to check that the judge wanted to be alone with someone who was probably on his criminal docket.
"As he was walking the young man down the hall, I called out to him an said, 'Judge, is everything OK?' He said it was," King said.
He said he spent the morning working at the area where the public elevators come down and never saw the young man come out, even though he was watching for him because he was concerned about Thomas.
King also served warrants three times on Akil Figures for the drug court. He said this was a most unusual situation to him because normally someone doesn't get that many chances in drug court. After Figures was arrested on the third warrant, King said he went up to see when his court date was, and was surprised to see Thomas' name on the file, since Thomas does not usually deal with drug court. King said he went to see Thomas about Figure's increasingly wild and violent behavior, and the judge told him he was going to make sure Figures went to jail this time.
"I told him I had a fear he'd shoot somebody or get shot. I said for the public safety, Akil needed to go to jail," King testified. "He said Akil was an angry young man and was having troubles with his mother, and that he needed to sentence Akil and not let the people in drug court sentence Akil because he was a family friend."
King said he learned two days later that Figures was back in drug court, which is focused primarily on treatment, not punishment, and does not incarcerate those sentenced there.
Prosecutor Nicki Patterson asked King, "Was Akil treated differently?"
"In my opinion he was," King responded.
Drug Court Judge Edward Blount was called to the stand next, and explained the workings of drug court and went through Figures' extensive file. It showed Figures was first sentenced to drug court in 2000, and managed to stay in the program off and on through 2004.
At one point, Blount placed Figures in the barracks at Mobile Metro Jail, which is an incarceration program to keep repeat offenders off the streets and get them cleaned up. Figures was sent there in March of 2004. Looking over the file, Blount read to the courtroom an order from Thomas on April, 9 2004 releasing Figures from jail and placing him back in the drug court program.
The afternoon session of the Herman Thomas trial kicked off with plenty of area attorneys in attendance as the prosecution and defense tied up some loose strings from before lunch.
Still on the stand was Blount who wrapped up his testimony telling jurors in a very matter-of-fact manner that Thomas had taken Figures out of jail when he had insisted to Thomas he didn't feel probation was the right move.
"I said he's not ready to get out of jail yet," Blount said of his conversation with Thomas. " He needs to stay longer."
After his conversation with Thomas and expressing his concerns, Blount said Thomas contacted him on the phone and every time he saw him in the halls of Government Plaza, the conversation turned toward Figures. Blount said it got to the point where he tried to avoid Thomas.
"It wasn't his business anyway as far as I'm concerned," Blount told prosecutors. Shortly after, Blount said, he told Thomas he would be OK with releasing Akil under the condition that he be put under electronic monitoring. Blount said he then learned Thomas had ordered Figures be released.
On top of Blount butting heads with Thomas, on May 6, 2004 he said he had his secretary search for paperwork and orders of release. There were none on file to report, he added. Then, on May 11 of the same year, he said, "Akil absconded." Blount added, Figures had cut off his ankle bracelet and vanished.
Blount would later tell jurors, when asked if he ever had any other contact with Thomas,
that he had been contacted again, and this time Thomas told him he needed to let Figures out because, "I was in a campaign (for a judge seat) and it could go badly for me if I didn't."
Under cross-examination, Deen questioned the appointment of a drug court judge and under whose responsibility the task falls under. Blount's answer: Charlie Graddick, the current presiding circuit court judge.
Building up for the testimony of Witness Eight, the prosecution then brought Mary Foster to the stand. The circuit clerk's office employee was asked to tell jurors about the circumstances under which Witness Eight had entered Thomas's alleged cycle of paddling and propositioning.
Foster told jurors that Witness Eight had been originally convicted of third-degree burglary in August of '99 when he was around the age of 19 or 20 years old. He was punished as a youthful offender.
Under the youthful offender program, the longest sentence a person may receive is three years, Foster told jurors. Witness eight would later confirm he had been in the criminal system for seven years as a "youthful offender."
Witness Eight was originally sentenced under the supervision of Circuit Court Judge John Lockett. Just before the three-year limit had been reached, however, Lockett's docket became full as the result of a civil suit and Thomas took Witness Eight's case.
Witness Eight took the stand also carrying a very matter-of-fact air about him at the outset.
He said the first day he met Thomas was when his case was taken from Lockett's docket and placed in the lap of Thomas. Witness Eight said Thomas came into the holding cell where prisoners sit before meeting with a judge and Thomas entered the room and pointed to about "13 or 14 of us."
Later, Witness Eight said he spoke with Thomas who told him, "he wasn't going to send me to prison, he was going to send me an alternative." After a violation of his probation, the first of many to come, he said he met with Thomas again and Thomas asked him, "'What am I going to do?' I said corporal punishment and he agreed to that." The man then added that he had not heard of the idea from other inmates, but instead thought of the punishment himself. "So he set up a date and he told me when he was going to come get me."
Three to four hours later, Thomas ordered Witness Eight to the docket room in Metro Jail. They departed from jail, stopped by Government Plaza where Thomas would pick up an item.
"I was mainly asking him where we were going and what were we going to do," Witness Eight said of his trip to the judge's chambers. Then, he said, the two went to Thomas's house in Toulminville.
"He told me to turn around a pull my pants down. He told me I was going to get a licking," Witness Eight said. When questioned further about the nature of the paddling, Witness Eight asked prosecutor Barry Matson, "You know what a whoopin is?"
He then proceeded to tell Matson what a real whooping feels like
"This was a real whoopin'. I kept sayin' that shit hurt man. He tore my ass up! That shit hurt!" Witness Eight exclaimed to laughter in the courtroom. Witness Eight caught everyone by surprise shortly after an almost comical recollection of the story by telling the jury he was paddled once more for every instance he called Thomas "man" during the paddling.
Witness Eight was the first of 14 total alleged victims to testify to being paddled in Thomas's house. Prosecutor Nicki Patterson said, he won't be the last with a story similar in nature.
After Witness Eight's paddling he said he pulled up his pants and tried to walk home, but Thomas told him he wouldn't be doing that before giving him a ride home.
Witness Eight continually ran into trouble by violating his parole several more times and the defense would point out that fact.
Before being cross-examined by the defense, Witness Eight would tell of a second paddling that took place in Government Plaza. The man had violated his parole again and he contacted Thomas for help. In an attempt to halt anything more than paddling, he brought his girlfriend and his two children with him that day, he said.
"We all walked to the back," Witness Eight said of his trip. "I didn't want to talk, I was there to take care of business. Lets get this whipping out of the way so we can go," he said he remembered thinking.
Witness Eight ended his questioning with the prosecution by telling the jury Thomas was trying to encourage him to do right.
Defense attorney Robert "Cowboy Bob" Clark stood to question Victim Eight much the way he had questioned other previous victims, pointing toward records of a synopsis of conversations the witness had had with the FBI. Pointing toward a synopsis, the witness said he had "said the stuff, it's just shortened" about the contradictions between testimony and his FBI records.
Shortly after a recess, Debbie Gardner Williams, a former criminal assistant of Thomas's was called to the stand to act in the capacity of a character witness as well as to hopefully provide observations about Thomas's behavior for the prosecution.
Williams provided details about the "little room," office 806, saying she along with other assistants had access to the room and would often use it as a quiet place to do work or have personal conversations. She described the room as filled with boxes.
"You had to step over stuff to get to the chair and file cabinets," she noted.
Williams also gave testimony saying she recalled young black men coming and going from Thomas's office as well as his large extended family and people he worked with on the several organizations he belonged to.
Another comical moment came when the defense questioned her about the telephone contact Vivian Figures maintained with the former judge.
"She called a lot," Williams said before telling the jury people in her office had a special name for her, but one she wasn't willing to share. Figures called a total of two-to-four times a day when Akil, her son, was in jail, Williams confirmed.
Williamson even did an impression of Vivian Figures' voice, also drawing laughter from the jury and audience.
The trial will resume Monday at 9 a.m.