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Should Ronald Thompson Be Serving 20 Years for Firing a Gun to Protect an Elderly Neighbor?

| June 23, 2012

Ronald Thompson, serving a mandatory 20 years.

As marchers prepare for a Sunday protest in Jacksonville over the plight of Marissa Alexander – sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a gun in a domestic dispute – a parallel case is drawing similar outrage.

Ronald Thompson, a 65-year-old disabled veteran, is serving 20 years for firing two shots in the ground to protect an elderly neighbor from her grandson and three of his friends, who had been warned to stay away from her Keystone Heights home.

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“You can certainly argue whether Thompson’s decision to wave a gun around was wise,” wrote Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano. “And you can argue whether the two warning shots should have resulted in his subsequent conviction for aggravated assault.

“You cannot, however, reasonably argue that his actions warranted a 20-year sentence.”

Under the state’s 10-20-Life law, however, the judge had no option in the 2009 case. The 1999 law stipulates that when a gun is fired in the commission of a crime, the minimum sentence is 20 years. If a shot hits someone who is hurt or killed, the sentence goes up to life. Simply having a gun on you when you commit certain felonies brings a 10-year minimum.

Neither Marissa Alexander nor Ronald Thompson shot anyone. They were both offered three-year plea deals by State Attorney Angela Corey of the Fourth Judicial Circuit, but turned them down, saying they were innocent.

Alexander lost a jury trial in May and has begun her 20-year sentence. She will appeal, this time using an attorney who specializes in domestic violence cases.

Thompson’s lawyer, Steve Whittington, has filed a motion for a new trial on the grounds that his previous defense counsel made mistakes that confused the jury. Whittington’s motion was heard last week in a Clay County court, and a ruling is pending.

Now in a prison hospital, Thompson is struggling with diabetes, cataracts and multiple surgeries, including a triple bypass. His sister, Virginia Caldwell, said he’s lost his Veterans Administration benefits due to the conviction.

That’s ironic because Thompson, after becoming disabled, became a VA volunteer, driving daily to Lake City to help veterans with their benefits. His sister said he put in more than 5,500 hours.

“That’s what he does, he helps people,” Caldwell said, “and that’s what got him in trouble.”

In September 2009, Thompson was passing by a neighbor’s house and stopped to check on her. The woman was fearful because her grandson was expected, and Caldwell said the young man had been violent with his grandmother.

“His mother moved out because she was afraid of her own son,” Caldwell said.

The grandson wanted his three friends, who had been there before and were not welcome back, to be allowed in. According to court documents, he began shouting and cursing at his grandmother. Thompson ran to his truck, got his gun and fired two shots into the ground to warn them off.

“He would never have hurt that boy,” said Caldwell of the grandson. “He taught him how to work on cars.”

The four men drove away and called the police, who arrested Thompson and told him he should have called the authorities.

“He wishes he never touched that gun,” said Caldwell.

Greg Newburn, the Florida project director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said Thompson’s was “the worst mandatory minimum case I’ve ever come across.”

Judge John Skinner didn’t follow the 10-20-Life law, finding it unconstitutional as it would have been applied in this case, and sentenced Thompson to just three years.

An appeals court overruled Skinner and sent it back for re-sentencing under the minimum mandatory. The state moved to disqualify Skinner from the second sentencing and he recused himself. A second judge gave Thompson the full 20 years.

“Our prosecutors asked Mr. Thompson to take the three year deal, repeatedly,” said Jackie Barnard, a spokeswoman for the state attorney’s office. “Mr. Thompson declined.”

Caldwell is hoping that her brother gets a new trial as a result of the motion for a new trial, a motion before Circuit Judge Don Lester. If he were to be offered a new three-year deal, he’d likely take it, because with time already served, he’d be free soon. Whittington, Thompson’s attorney, said he expects the ruling any day now.

–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida

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11 Responses for “Should Ronald Thompson Be Serving 20 Years for Firing a Gun to Protect an Elderly Neighbor?”

  1. Some guy says:

    manditory minimuns are no good laws. We need good judges who can make good judgments.

  2. Why says:

    Then explain why in Flagler County a couple of years ago how Gary Bullock on County Road 140 shot a gun in Suzanne Tuckers house, just missing her by inches, didn’t get the appropriate sentence according to the mandatory law? Next time someone may not be so lucky…it’s just a few years before he will be out to terorize the neighborhood again.

  3. Steve Robinson says:

    “He wishes he never touched that gun,” says his sister. How many times have you heard that?
    This is such a revealing report. OK, let’s all agree that 20 years is a lot for an ailing senior citizen. Then, let’s all agree that the problem isn’t mandatory sentences, but guns. Nothing good happens when a gun is involved … ever. Even if you accept George Zimmerman’s story that he was “attacked” by Trayvon Martin, if Zimmerman had not been armed, there would, at worst, have been a fistfight (and when is the last time you heard that word??) and a young man would be alive. And George Zimmerman would also have some kind of life, which he won’t whether or not he is convicted.
    Mr. Thompson chose to pick up a gun instead of a telephone, and that’s why he is sitting in jail. Sure, you can feel sorry for him. But feel sorry for him because he made a really bad decision that he can’t take back, not because he is a “victim” of mandatory sentencing.

  4. john stewart says:

    This is unbelievable…he fired into the ground…never hurt anybody..was protecting someone…and gets 20 years in prison!!!! Murders dont get that much time..something is wrong here…

  5. Clint says:

    Prisons are a waste of time and money. They only serve the “pockets” of the judicial system. Convicted murders should be executed the day after their caught and tried in a court of law.Thieves and robbers chould have their hands removed. Rapist should be castrated and then executed. Drug dealers sent to deserted island with no food or water. Drug users should receive medical help to come clean and then put to work on country roads re-building our infrastrucure…….People who rightfully try and help little old ladies from terrorizing punks should be given a medal and a congradulation from society.

  6. Gia says:

    Nothing knew. Justice sucks

  7. ME` says:

    When seconds count, cops are a minute away.

  8. Outsider says:

    Steve Robinson, you claim that there is never a “good” outcome when a gun is involved. There actually are many positive outcomes, but liberal publication never print them. There are several published every month in the NRA’s monthly magazine. Here is another site dedicated to real life stories of how guns protected people against criminals.

    • Steve Robinson says:

      Unfortunately, when it comes to gun ownership and gun use, statistics are wholly unreliable, on both sides. Studies done on alleged successful self-defense using a gun are all over the map, and are questionable, given the predisposition of those conducting the studies (Google it and you’ll see). What is impossible to tell, of course, is what the outcome of these alleged confrontations would have been if there were no gun present at all–you can’t prove a negative. In any case, here’s at least one fairly neutral statistic, from the FBI: In 1998, for every time a woman used a handgun in the United States to kill in self-defense, 101 women died in handgun homicides.
      The statistic was cited in a report by a gun-control group, but the source is the FBI’s supplemental crime statistics.
      There is a reason why one of the most influential groups in the country pressing for tougher gun laws are the nation’s police chiefs.

  9. jackrabbitslim says:

    Today’s justice system is stymied by too many inane and silly laws. Whatever happened to common sense? Oh yeah I remember now, it all went out the window when Sweet Willy Clinton was caught dorking a young intern with a cigar. Oh dear me, what has become of my memory. Uh oh, sure hope that is not a crime…………………………………..yet. Give it time.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Now let’s see…Texas Grand Jurors refused to indict a man who KILLED TWO MEN who were robbing his neighbor’s home – or whom he suspected were robbing his neighbor’s home. NPR news reported that two men got into an argument at a ball game, one went home and got his gun, returned back to the game and killed the guy he was arguing with. He WALKED thanks to the “Stand Your Ground” law. The judge’s keep talking about the letter of the law, “…gun used during the commission of a crime…” In both Marissa Alexander’s and Ronald Thompson’s case the gun was NOT USED DURING THE COMMISSION OF A CRIME…rather for self defense and defense of a victim being attacked. AND NO ONE WAS KILLED. Will we please replace these unfeeling legal authorities with people who will be both SANE AND REASONABLE in these matters? Nobody needs to serve ANY time for gun fired in self defense. It’s a constitutional right. Where the hell is the NRA during THESE matters???

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