12:45 - DA Kelly back in courtroom. Thweatt, wife, family friends here since 12:30. Attorneys spoke with judge about 12:30 about restitution, perhaps other things.
JUDGE – 12:47 - Priest, Davis and Thweatt return to podium.
As I stated before the break, sentencing is never an easy matter, no matter who or the crime. Under MS law, there are no guidelines for us to consider. No guidance whatsoever. Told by statutes what minimum and maximum. Anything under max is appropriate. The federal courts have a statute on imposition of sentence, of factors to be considered... says statute, sufficient but not greater than necessary. Gives judges a lot of guidance. Sufficient but not greater than nec.
Also, to consider nature, circumstances of offense, nature of defendant. Sentence should reflect seriousness of offense, promote respect for law and provide just punishment, to deter criminal conduct, to protect public from further crimes by defendant, and finally, to provide defendant with needed education or vocational etc. care in most effective manner.
In considering these factors, uh, Mr. Thweatt is sentenced - Ct. 1 to serve 10 years .... first let me address non-adjudication:
In some cases of this nature, this court has taken pleas under non-adjudication sttuta. In this case, don’t think that would be appropriate. Had it been one isolated, might have been. But conduct in this case ... own admissions and indictment, charges, information to court ... it began in April 2010 and concluded Feb. 2012.
From DA, that several other possible charges will not be pursued by them.
So, this is not an isolated incident we’re dealing with .Two separate counts - 2012 and 2010 - plus they are ... the other charges, which aren’t going to be pursued. Also, defendant is entitled to presumptio of innocence on them.
To crimes being not isolated ... considering state is not pursuing the others ... and court has no opinion about those. State’s discretion to pursue.
As to Count 1 - serve 10 years in prison with MDOC... received by Dept. and placed into its Intensive Supv. Program, called House Arrest... if complete it, you will be put on 5-yrs probation. As to Count 2 - 10 years in prison ... suspended and run same time as Count 1. Pay all costs in this case. $200 to DA’s Offce, large amt of restitution no fine imposed.
Further, Count 1 - $5,060 restitution to Lee Schools. Also restitution for investigation of this manner, $7,901.28. Total $12,968.21.
Court reserves right of judicial review for period of one year from this date.
In arriving at this sentence, I’m aware some think it is too hard, others too lenient. In court’s opinion, believe it’s sufficient but not greater than necessary. Having considered factors under federal statute, which doesn’t apply to or be bound to ... sentence reflects seriousness of the offense, just punishment ... as far as protecting public from future crimes by you... you made nearly 50 years without committing one... doubt you will do it again.
I understand that you are prepared to pay full restitution today? (Correct?) Yes, Davis says. Another factor entering into court’s arrival of these sentences.
Intensive supervision program ... house arrest. You being committed to MDOC custody but you’re being allowed to what amounts to serving sentence in your own home. Program is 1-year ... and hopefully you will complete it and come off on psot-relief supervision. Any violations of terms will result inf your immediate arrest and transportation to MDOC facility until your complete 10-year sentence.
Have no reason to think you cannot and should not complete program.
Great deal of respect for your attorneys and Kelly. Also your character witnesses. I’ve known Green and Anthony for a long time ... and I do respect their opinions of you or anyone else they might wish to share with me. Like one or both, hard to understand what you’re doing here.
You have excellent reputaiton, obviously until recently. And, uh, a person’s reputation is worth something to this court. In fact, that you lived a decent law-abiding life to this point has a large bearing on my decision. Like money in the bank. You may have to draw on it, and that’s what you’ve done here today.
Any questions? (Kelly - no. Davis - no... but court directed him to report to House Arrest officer at 10 a.m. Not sure if Thweatts have necessary phone connection... uh.) Judge says it will be handled.
Thweatt, releasing you to report to HAOfficer no later than 10 a.m. Thursday. Find out what you need to meet the requirements. (Thweatt - yes sir). This matter is complete.
• • •
TUPELO – Former Lee County schools business manager Randy Thweatt, his family and friends are back in the Justice Center courtroom to await his sentence after he pleaded guilty to two embezzlement counts this morning.
• • •
TUPELO – Randy Thweatt pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement and the state waived three other charges today in circuit court of Lee County.
The former Lee County Schools business manager faces up to a total of 50 years in prison and $40,000 fine plus restitution.
Judge Paul Funderburk accepted Thweatt's guilty pleas, heard testimony from two friends and Thweatt's wife, and heard Thweatt's attorney ask him not to send his client to prison.
The judge recess the hearing until 12:30, when he said he'll meet with attorneys about restitution and then pronounce sentence.
•(Below is a running account of the proceeding. Please excuse the typos and other glitches likely as I type fast.)
10:45 - Judge Paul Funderburk arrives. Attorneys take their seats. Thweatt with Davis, Priest at defense table. DA Kelly is sole prosecutor today.
JUDGE - Before court is State v. Thweatt. Two counts. Understand that Thweatt intends to plead guilty to the charges? (Davis - yes)
Defense attorneys with Thweatt to podium.
JUDGE - (Asks questions of Thweatt. Swears him in.) Thweatt says he plans to plead guilty to both counts of indictment (embezzlement). 10:48
Thweatt, 50. Bachelor’s degree, Mississippi State. Not currently employed. Married, two adult children. No prior felony record. Knows of no other pending felony charges against him. Says pleas of guilty are voluntary.
KELLY - (reads charges against Thweatt and potential sentences) Count 1 embezzlement, max 10 years, $20K fine. This count accuses Thweatt of taking 2006 Ford Ranger, owned by Lee County Schools. Count 2 embezzlement, max 10 years, $25K fine. This count accuses him of taking an air conditioner owned by Lee schools.
JUDGE - Says state does not have sentencing recommendation. (Kelly says open plea.)
Mr. Thweatt, Count 1 charges that you as schools biz mgr embezzled a pickup truck owned by schools, entrusted to you. Did you do that? (Thweatt - yes sir)
Count 2, charges you as schools biz mgr embezzled an air conditioner, for your own use. Did you do that? (Thweatt - yes sir)
As to each of these charges, do you understand max sentence could be imposed on you? 10 years in prison?) (Thweatt -yes sir)
Understand max fine of $25K?) (Thweatt - yes sir.)
No minimum sentence, no minimum fine. No sentence recommendation by state, but court isn’t bound to follow them in any event? (Yes sir).
Knowing all this, wish to proceed/ (Yes sir)
Says to Kelly - what is state’s position on restitution?
KELLY - State asks $17,512.55 restitution. Includes principal of things not returned, interest and investigative fees by State Auditor’s Office. Also, in exchange for pleas, I indicated state doesn’t intend to see further charges or indictments now or later on these charges as to 2010 aluminum trailer valued $2K or golf cart valued at $2,800 or landscaping work $5,060 plus interest. Also do not intend to seek indictment on obstruction of justice charge, which arose between indictment and contacting potential witness for evidence.
JUDGE - Record reflects that state, for guilty pleas, will not pursue other prosecution stated.
Davis, Priest - is that your understanding?
DAVIS - It is. I am prepared to address issues.
JUDGE - MR. THWEATT, you understood no sentence rec from state? (Thweatt - yes sir)
(Judge asks him other standard questions about his understanding of pleadings, promises, sentences?)
(Judge asks attys if they have told him promises about making pleadings?) Davis - only advised about min and max sentences. Priest - no your honor.
JUDGE - (Asks Qs of attys about their advice to him.) Thweatt, satisfied with their advice? (Yes sir.)
Mr. Thweatt, as to Count 1, truck embezzlement. (Pleads guilty). Count 2, a/c embezzlement. (Pleads guilty)
Court finds he enters pleas of guilty. 2 Cts, factual basis for these pleas.
I understand that you wish to have brief sentencing hearing and call two witnesses and have another speak? (Atty - yes sir)
DAVID ANTHONY - (DAVIS questions) Admin/sr. counselor of Lee County Youth Court. Knows him as member of Parkway Baptist Church. For a few years. Talks about knowing family, children. He has been a trusted member of our church, our financial mgr until these charges. We didn’t ask him to step down. We had no plans to ask hi to step down. He voluntarily stepped down. Didn’t want anyone to look at our church in a bad light. I’m a deacon at church. “It doesn’t fit, his behavior.”
I believe his character to be of a high standard, his moral convictions of high standard. Known him as honorable man. Can’t explain this behavior, but I do call upon the mercy of this court to have leniency... that he does have skills and character that our community needs. He is educated, wife works in Saltillo school system. Hate to throw this away. Dedicated to his family, our church. Think it would be a waste.
(behavior? Accept him back as financial mgr?) Yes sir. Our Deacon Council, see no problem with that.
KELLY - No questions
JOHNNY GREEN - Former Lee Schools superintendent.(Recounts his years with school district.) Supt. 8 years, ended in 2007. REtired then back to work half-time for district. Now I’m facilities mgr and over district maintenance. (Davis asks if he worked with Thweatt?) Yes, he was biz mgr all time I was supt. 2000-2007. (How well know him?) Social friends, too. Known him since he came to district in 1996, worked closely with him while I was supt. Also closely in nature of maintenance and facilities. Randy and I hae worked closely together on projects. Depended on him heavily for financial solvency of district during that time. He kept us very solvent when other districts were laying off because of state cuts. Randy managed frugally, didn’t have to lay off people, serve our students.
(During your time, did he do job well?) Very well. (Thweatt sitting at table with hands in prayerful posture over his lips.) He is a good-hearted, kind-hearted person. He was always one of first to try to help someone else who needed help. Would volunteer. Remember a couple of times when people we knew fell on hard times. Knew he contributed to them. Lady had rough time, we talked about what we could do to help financially. Randy had $200 in pocket and gave it to her. He said she needed worse than I do. He was always wanted to help someone. Looked for opportunities ... looking back, even with his church, was familiar when he was member of First Baptist of Saltillo. There, he was church biz mgr ... he led a high school boys Sunday School class. On several occasions, some of them lived a long way from church. I know he made trips out to pick them up to church, Sunday School, take them back home.
Also know, he had lunch crew at work - he would miss it and buy an extra sandwich and go to the school.. he would spend his time mentoring with some of these young men. Very impressive to me.
(Davis asks - asking what?) Leniency, yes I am. Other than ... Randy has two step-children, always treated them like they were his. They feel that way too. Good family man, good person.
KELLY - No questions.
MRS. THWEATT - (Has statement for court) Married to him 16 years. He is the love of my life. He makes me a better person. I trust him completely. (Thweatt choking up at table.) Randy helped our daughter with asthma. He is a generous man. Offered help to neighbors, others. First to volunteer after disasters. Does all this without being asked. He is honest, gentle and compassionate. Has respect for others. He makes mistakes, but strives to do what is right. He asks God to make him a better man. Man of integrity. Teaches Sunday School. Recently honored and humbled by former student as man who gave him his first Bible.
He would never intetnionally harm anyone or take anything that doesn’t belong to him.
JUDGE - (Davis, no one else.) First, Thweatt has right to speak. Do you have anything to say? (He says no sir, I do not.)
DAVIS - First about restitution... understand state asks $17,512.55. My understanding ... is that actual principal amt on restitution includes $5K for sod. This is one of unindicted counts. Some discrepancy as to how much sod was put down. Not disputing amount. But sod at school where his landscaping service put it down. Also included, $210.13 for one trip to install a/c, $213 to install again, $107 to install compressor for a/c - total $525 approx. That amount ... represents time of school district of employees and perhaps mileage to Starkville to install a/c. Total actual principal sought is $5,585.33 - other amt represents interest ... $4,025.94. Also, $7,901.28 in investigative costs... they outstrip the principal.
District loss was much less. Ranger returned to district. A/C has been returned to district. 2010 alumnim trailer returned. Club golf cart returned. We respectfully ask court... he’s prepared to make restitution in whatever amount. We believe it to be $5,585.33. He understands court can order whatever amount, plus fines and court costs. We ask lower restitution.
I recall when court asked him if he pled guilty or not, accepted his plea. I was very respectfully ask to decline to accept his plea under (section - ) non-adjudication stattued.
Clearly, what he did was out of character. He is 50 years old, has served school districts for decades. Asks court ... I believe this is a case for non-adjudication. Should court decline that and find him guilty, I beg this court not to sentence him to penitentiary time. He’s 50 zero criminal history. Colelge degree, two adult children. He has led exemplary ... can contribute to community. He has lost his job, esteem in some parts of community ... been publicly humiliated on TV, name/photo on front page of newspaper. Humbled beyond belief. He is no danger to this community, no risk in future.
Asking court to non-adjudicate him. If not, Please give him probation so he can go home to family.
JUDGE - Sentencing is difficult for any judge. This case, any cases. Court will sentence ... take it under consideration during noon hour. It’s 11:30. Will recess until 12:30, then will see lawyers in chambers with questions about restitution. We will reconvene after that.
Thweatt, you have right to speak prior to sentencing. I’ll give you one more opportunity (No sir.)
Adjourns to 12:30.
• • •
TUPELO – Former Lee County schools business manager Randy Thweatt, family members and a few friends are in court this morning, apparently to hear him plead guilty to criminal charges against him.
Today's hearing is an extension of one last Thursday, which ended without a plea or any other action.
Thweatt was arrested April 17 at the Lee County School District office by officials of the State Auditor’s Office after he was indicted on two counts of embezzlement – involving a 2006 Ford Ranger pickup truck and a district air conditioning unit he was accused of installing in a Starkville mobile home he owns.
• For more, come back to DJournalnow or read Thursday's Daily Journal.