WILMINGTON — A family sat divided and hurt Friday as one of its elder members, Michael Thompson, 64, of Wilmington, was sentenced to four years of prison for crimes against a minor and fellow family member.
Thompson previously pleaded guilty to three third-degree felony charges of sexual battery, unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and gross sexual imposition. As part of that plea, prosecutors dropped charges of rape and sexual battery.
In addition to the prison sentence, the crimes and the court hearing appeared to tear a rift between the family, a rift that Clinton County Common Pleas Judge John W. “Tim” Rudduck, prosecutors and public defenders hope can be healed.
Rudduck ordered the sentence, noting Thompson’s remorse, the need to “both protect the public from future crime and to punish the offender” and Thompson’s “callous betrayal” of trust.
Rudduck also noted that the sentence was neither the maximum nor the minimum given the offenses, saying judges must dispense “justice, but we try to temper it with mercy.”
He added that he would consider early, judicial release and that Thompson had 30 days to appeal the sentence.
Rudduck praised the young victim’s courage, saying even adults don’t step forward in her situation.
“Healing doesn’t come from hiding things,” he said. “Treatment doesn’t come from hiding things.”
Rudduck said Thompson harbored a “dark secret” for a few years and said he had to sentence him to prison.
“You’re not the victim,” he said. “The victim is the (family member) you abused sexually. … By any civilized standard, what you did was evil.”
Members of the family, which almost evenly divided the first two rows of the court room, gave statements.
Those family members won’t be identified by name by the Wilmington News Journal in order to better protect the underage victim’s identity.
The victim’s mother, whose voice began to break at several points, said Thompson took away “the virginity of an innocent child” whose life will never be the same.
“I’m very proud of my daughter for coming forward to tell us that she was being raped by her (family member),” the mother said.
It should be noted that the rape charge against Thompson was dismissed.
“We lost an entire side of the family,” she said of the divided courtroom. “We are forever changed.”
She and chief felony prosecutor Brian Shidaker argued that community controls or probation wasn’t enough.
“There cannot be a healing process if it’s kept in the dark,” Shidaker later told the Wilmington News Journal. “In order to begin this healing process it needs to be brought to light and it needs to be through the criminal justice system.”
Thompson and members sitting on the defendant’s family’s side also gave statements.
Thompson said he loves his family, saying they were “his life.” He didn’t know why he committed his crimes, but was sorry.
“I promised myself I would never do this again,” he said.
He apologized to the family and said he was ashamed of his actions.
Several in the courtroom were crying.
One family member said Thompson’s actions were “out of place,” but said he’s been crying out of remorse and seeking help.
“He needs to be close to his family,” that man said. “This is so out of character. … He made a horrible mistake.”
Another man, and a pastor, said Thompson showed responsibility in admitting his crime and assured Rudduck and the family that he’d support Thompson and the family.
“I feel like he needs to be in a position where he can receive spiritual counseling,” the pastor said.
Scott Evans, the public defender representing Thompson, said Thompson was someone who could be trusted on community controls.
“They all need healed,” Evans said. “I don’t think prison will help that.”
Stuart Bassman testified as an expert witness to Thompson’s treatment. Bassman said Thompson initially saw himself as the victim but has since taken full responsibility.
Thompson nodded along when Bassman said, “He needs to learn to manage his risk.”
Bassman’s primary concern was Thompson’s treatment, saying that treatment would be delayed if Thompson went to prison and that he needed a relapse prevention plan.
He said there was some risk Thompson would re-offend against the same victim.
“We cannot eliminate the risk, even if he goes to prison,” Bassman said.
Thompson will also be required to register as a second-tier sex offender, which requires regular reporting.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.