We the undersigned, do hereby petition Governor Bush, the Florida Appeals Court and the citizens of Florida to immediately and without delay open a joint discussion on the sentencing of William Thornton IV by Circuit Judge Ric Howard.
William Thornton (17) was driving a borrowed car on an unfamiliar road and was unaware that just over the hill was a stop sign. He was driving above the posted speed limit. Thornton skidded through the stop sign unable to stop in time and was hit by a Chevy Blazer.
The two passengers in the Blazer were not wearing seat belts and the driver was intoxicated. He later tested at 0.102 or 0.112. Cocaine residue was also found in the Blazer. Both occupants were thrown from the car and died from their injuries. Thornton though injured, survived.
Testing confirmed Thornton was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Following the accident a sign was erected by the county warning drivers of the fast approaching stop sign. Too little, too late for all involved.
Charged with two counts each of vehicular homicide and driving without a license on the advice of his public defender, Eric Evilsizer, Thornton pled no contest, thereby throwing himself on the mercy of the court. Young Thornton received a 30 year sentence.
Circuit Judge Ric Howard has a reputation for harsh sentences. He is also mentioned during sentencing that he is the same judge who sentenced Thorntons father to prison.
In her motion to withdraw Thornton's plea of no contest to the charges Assistant Public Defender Dale Merrill says Thornton's case would have never gotten this far if his attorney hadn't given him bad advice.
"My plea was not voluntary," Thornton wrote in an affidavit in his court file. "... My attorney provided me with inaccurate information on which I based my decision and my plea."
Evilsizer, Thorntons Public Defender told Thornton the judge's sentence would be in line with the recommendations of the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) and the Department of Corrections (DOC), Merrill wrote. Otherwise, Thornton would never have pleaded no contest without a plea agreement in place.
DJJ recommended he serve two years in a juvenile detention facility. In this case. Judge Ric Howard did not follow the recommendations of the DJJ or DOC.
"For a defendant to be led to believe that he will receive a significant reduction in penalty as a result of a plea, and to be subsequently given the maximum sentence of 30 years is an affront to our basic system of justice, due process and to the defendant's right to a jury trial," Assistant Public Defender Dale Merrill wrote.
Even if the plea was entered because of a misunderstanding, Merrill said, it would be enough to render the plea involuntary.
According to local sources, Circuit Judge Ric Howard will deny the motion set for Nov. 8th. When this happens we are urging Gov. Bush and the appeals courts to look into this case.