HARLINGEN, Texas — An ex-convict who pleaded no contest to sexually abusing his daughter was sentenced to crochet afghans as part of the community service requirement of his probation.
Despite an outcry over the seemingly lenient sentence, the prosecutor in the case said he had been ready to dismiss it for lack of evidence.
During a dispute over custody of the child, Norma de la Torre accused her ex-husband, Robert Wayne Thompson, of sexually abusing their 8-year-old daughter. She filed civil and criminal cases against him.
Thompson had served five years in prison in Virginia for sexual assault.
But the criminal case became shaky when the girl told the judge in the civil case that her mother had told her to say Thompson abused her.
So state District Judge Rose Guerra Reyna, in the criminal case, agreed to a plea bargain in July that required Thompson to register as a sex offender, be under probation — and spend 320 hours crocheting afghans.
Thompson likes to crochet — he's made numerous such small blankets for wheelchair-bound patients at hospitals and nursing homes. Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra said crocheting was chosen because Thompson is disabled with a heart condition and couldn't do anything strenuous.
Dianne Clements of Justice for All, a victims' rights group, told CNN, "The judge lost her mind." The McAllen Monitor ran five letters critical of the judge and received several more.
No comment from the judge
Guerra Reyna has not responded to critics of the sentence because the judicial code prohibits her from speaking about it.
But a colleague, retired state District Judge Fernando Mancias, said she considered it fair because no one could prove the allegations against Thompson.
De la Torre could not be reached for comment.
Thompson said he pleaded no contest in the criminal case at the advice of his two public defenders.
"The judge just took it because it was presented by the district attorney, and I accepted it," Thompson told The Associated Press.
His attorneys did not immediately return calls for comment.
Guerra, the prosecutor, said he couldn't prove the case.
"We have some conflicts in testimony and evidence." he said. "I had authorized dismissal. My staff in lieu of dismissal put him under supervision and he would also be required to register.
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