A prosecutor depicted a former Alabama judge on Friday as a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" who had sex with jail inmates in return for leniency while claiming to straighten out their lives.
Former Mobile Circuit Judge Herman Thomas built a reputation for mentoring troubled young men while hiding his sexual abuse of them, Chief Assistant District Attorney Nicki Patterson told the jury in opening arguments.
She compared the judge, prominent in community programs, to the famous Robert Louis Stevenson character with a dual personality, embodying both good and evil.
But defense attorney Jeff Deen said Thomas is an award-winning civic leader who is the victim of unproven jailhouse rumors. He said Thomas is also in court because of political enemies he made during a 17-year career as a judge.
The 48-year-old Thomas is on trial on charges including kidnapping, sodomy, and sexual abuse. He resigned in 2007 after some of the allegations surfaced in a judicial ethics case, including claims of paddling inmates with their pants down, but he has denied any wrongdoing.
Opening statements were given after a jury of eight men and eight women was selected. The panel includes four alternate jurors.
Claims by 15 inmates
Thomas, once the Democratic Party's choice to be the first black federal judge in south Alabama, is accused of sexually abusing inmates as long ago as 1999, his first year as a state circuit judge.
The charges involve claims by 15 inmates accusing the judge of checking them out of the jail for meetings in his car or a private office in the county courthouse, where abuse allegedly included oral and anal sex.
Thomas was appointed to a district judgeship in 1990 and later won election to a full term before becoming a circuit judge. In 1997, Alabama's presidential advisory committee recommended President Bill Clinton appoint Thomas as the first black federal judge in the southern district of Alabama, but the nomination never was made amid squabbling within the party.