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Former West Virginia Judge Pleads Guilty, Sentenced

Former West Virginia Judge Pleads Guilty, Sentenced

by Joe Watson

A former Mingo County, West Virginia circuit judge was sentenced to 50 months in federal prison and fined $6,000 after pleading guilty to federal conspiracy charges which grew out of a plot to silence an FBI informant who planned to provide federal investigators with information damaging to a political crony – Mingo County’s Sheriff. Former Judge Michael Thornsbury, 59, could have received up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

“Mr. Thornsbury’s conduct was shocking and appalling,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin following the sentencing on June 9, 2014. “It was worthy of a stiff sentence.”

Even so, Goodwin recommended that Thornsbury’s sentence be reduced by 10 months because he had cooperated with authorities, providing information that led to the arrests of former Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden and former Mingo County prosecutor Michael Sparks.

Investigators said Thornsbury told them the three men had hatched a scheme to protect their political ally – then-Sheriff Eugene Crum – from a federal investigation into alleged drug and campaign finance law violations by pressuring Mingo County businessman George White to fire the attorney who was helping him provide evidence to the FBI that Crum had illegally obtained prescription painkillers and accepted unlawful campaign contributions. [See: PLN, Nov. 2014, p.24, Nov. 2013, p.42].

According to authorities, Sheriff Crum owed White several thousand dollars for making election campaign signs, but rather than pay, he arranged for a police informant to purchase drugs from White, then had White arrested. White said Thornsbury promised that he would only spend one month in jail and be placed on home confinement if he agreed to hire the attorney the conspirators wanted.

“They arranged to offer [a] favorable plea deal if he would fire his attorney, who was assisting [White’s] communication with federal authorities, and replace him with an attorney chosen by Crum and the other elected officials,” according to a statement released by federal prosecutors when Thornsbury was indicted.

But White said after he changed lawyers, he was instead sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. He eventually served eight months plus another 47 days on home confinement.

“In West Virginia, there are three different laws,” White said. “The federal law, the state law and the Mingo County law. Mingo County law is the one I fear the most.”

At his sentencing hearing, Thornsbury expressed regret; the former judge said he allowed his judgment “to be clouded by my loyalty, ambition and pride.”

“I relive that 10-second conversation with Sheriff Crum every day,” he stated. “I relive it and regret it, but I can’t change that it happened.” His mistakes, he said, are “with me every waking day, hour, second. It’s all I think about.”

Sheriff Crum was killed in a Williamson, West Virginia parking lot in 2013. His accused murderer, Tennis Maynard, was committed to a state mental health facility in January 2015 after being found incompetent to stand trial.

In sentencing Thornsbury, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas E. Johnston compared the former circuit judge to a third-world dictator.

“This structure is that of a third-world country,” Johnston said. “He corrupted the system that is supposed to stop us from being that type of country.”

Thornsbury had previously been indicted by a grand jury in a plot to frame Robert Woodruff, his secretary’s husband, on bogus drug, theft and assault charges after she broke off her affair with the judge. Those charges were dropped in exchange for his guilty plea to the federal conspiracy charge. In addition, Thornsbury settled a malicious prosecution lawsuit filed by Woodruff and a second suit filed by Woodruff’s wife.

Thornsbury is currently incarcerated at a federal prison in Florida; he has a release date in March 2017.

Sources:,, The West Virginia Record,,