This state's attorney general says he will appeal
a judge's decision to put a convicted child molester on probation rather than
send him to prison because his short stature would make him a target for other
"This sentence is far too lenient," Attorney General Jon Bruning said
Thursday. "Anyone who sexually assaults a child deserves to live their life
behind bars for awhile."
Bruning said Thursday that his office will file the appeal within the next
The 5-foot, 1-inch (1.55 meters) tall Richard W. Thompson was sentenced on
Tuesday to 10 years probation on two felony sexual assault charges for sexually
assaulting a 12-year-old girl, the daughter of his fiancee.
The case was drawing international attention, with crime victim advocates
decrying the sentence and supporters of short people saying it's about time
someone recognized the challenges they face.
"He would probably end up being somebody's woman," said Joe Mangano of New
York City, secretary of the National Organization of Short Statured Adults.
"Then again, after what he did some people might think he would deserve that
sort of a fate."
Cheyenne County District Judge Kristine Cecava told Thompson his offenses
warranted a long prison sentence, but she said that he was too small to survive
very long in a state prison. He could have been sentenced to 10 years behind
Thompson had sexual contact over a couple of months last year with the
12-year-old daughter of his fiancee, said Sidney Police Chief Larry Cox.
"I'm concerned about the message this sends to victims and perpetrators,"
said Marla Sohl, with the Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition in
Lincoln on Thursday.
More concern is being placed on the criminal and his safety in prison than
the victim, Sohl said.
Thompson's attorney, Donald Miller of Sidney, had no comment on the ruling.
Cheyenne County Attorney Paul Schaub, who prosecuted the case, did not
immediately return a call seeking comment.
Bruning said Schaub was supportive of the appeal and was working with his
office on it.
Cecava did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
The judge's reasoning also confounded Amy Miller, legal director for the
Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"I have never heard of anything like this before," she said.
No one has ever come to the ACLU to complain of height discrimination, she
said. And using Thompson's height as a reason to avoid sending him to prison is
surprising, because neither the U.S. or state constitutions provides protections
based on physical stature, she said.
But the 5-foot-4-inch (1.6-meter) Mangano said he agreed with the judge's
assessment that Thompson would face dangers while in prison because of his
"I'm assuming a short inmate would have a much more difficult time than a
large inmate," Mangano said. "It's good to see somebody looking out for someone
who is a short person."
Thompson's height would not put him at risk among the state's 4,400 inmates,
said prison system spokesman Steve King.
"He's not the shortest guy we have in prison," King said. "We've got some
short guys that are as tough as nails. We've got people from all ages, physical
stature of all sizes, in general population."
There are protections available in prison to help inmates who feel
threatened, King said, but to his knowledge no one has ever taken advantage of
them based on fears related to their height.
State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, a longtime critic of judges, said he was
totally baffled by the sentence.
"If shortness is an excuse and protection from going to prison, short people
ought to rob banks and do everything else they would wind up going to prison
for," Chambers said. "We're talking here about a crime committed against a
child, and shortness is not a defense."
There are laws against height discrimination in Michigan and in San Francisco
and Santa Cruz, California, Mangano said. Repeated attempts to pass a similar
law in Massachusetts have been unsuccessful.