Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Innocence Overlooked in Plea Bargaining
By Jennifer Bihm (Contributing Writer)
Published August 29, 2007

“I’m not just fighting for my baby, I’m fighting for all the other mothers who have to go through this,” said Ella Thomas mother of a 16-year-old accused of sexual assault and sentenced to about 13 years in prison.

Thomas’ son was unfairly tried as an adult she said and coerced into taking a plea deal without her knowing it. She wants to start a petition to stop this practice, which in her son’s case she explained, was perpetrated by the Los Angeles District Attorney with help from L.A. County Sheriffs.

“They bully kids into taking these deals,” said Thomas.

“They wait until the parents leave… my son said he wanted to go to trial, [DA] told him not to because he was going to lose. They said he would get 76 years if he lost.”

According to the district attorney’s report, the then 14-year-old whose name is not available because of his age, was charged March 7, 2006 with sexual assault and other crimes in connection with an attack on an 11-year-old boy in Watts. A petition had been filed later that same day asking the court to determine that the minor should be unfit to be tried as a juvenile.

But Thomas and her son maintain that the allegations are not true. Her son who was initially waiting for judgement in a juvenile robbery case she said had been in the same holding cell with the little boy who had been attacked. Another inmate involved in the case admitted to the allegations.

“He said to me, ‘mama I didn’t do it,’” Thomas recalled

However, her son signed a written confession that she believes he was heavily persuaded to do. Currently he is serving what will most likely be eight years of his full sentence. When he is eighteen he will be moved to an adult prison.

“Sheriffs are not supposed to be involved in anything having to do with sentencing or plea bargaining, so if that did happen, that’s inappropriate,” said LACSD Sgt. Ed Hummel.

Attempts to reach the District Attorney were unsuccessful as of press time.

“Legal experts define plea bargaining as the “process whereby the accused and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval. It usually involves the defendant’s pleading guilty to a lesser offense or to only one or some of the counts of a multi-count indictment in return for a lighter sentence than that possible for the graver charge.”

But nationwide, the process has been gaining recognition in poor communities, usually with African American or Latino defendants as one in which innocent people are encouraged to give up their right to trial. It has a lot to do with the cost of actually going to trial and an overload of cases within the court system.

Thomas said her son is going to school and is doing okay most days. But, the stigma of a sexual predator garners him problems from other inmates sometimes. She is worried about him “wearing that jacket” in the adult prison and even when he is released, she said. Thomas is currently appealing the case.

Categories: Local

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