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Article published in on June 5, 2006

Too Short for Prison

By Stephen Alexander (co-authored by Dino M. Zaffina)

A man convicted of sexually assaulting a child receives a 10-year probationary sentence instead of a 10-year prison term because he was too short. That was the rational used by Cheyenne County District Judge Kristine Cecava during the Tuesday, May 23, 2006, sentencing hearing. Judge Cecava told convicted child molester Richard W. Thompson that his crimes deserved a long prison sentence, but that he was too small to survive in a state prison.

Crime victim advocates were outraged at the judge’s decision.  Legal director for the Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Amy Miller was astounded at the judge’s decision.  “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 added.  “Using Thompson’s height as a reason to avoid sending him to prison is surprising because neither the U.S. nor state constitution provides protections based on physical stature.”

On the hand, supporters of short people said, “It is about time someone recognized the unique challenges short people face.” Joe Mangano, secretary of the National Organization of Short Statured Adults, agreed with the judge’s assessment that Thompson would face dangers while in prison because of his height. “I’m assuming a short inmate would have a much more difficult time than a large inmate,” said Mangano, who is a short person. “It’s good to see somebody looking out for someone who is a short person.”

The Nebraska attorney general, Jon Bruning does not care what the size is of the convicted felon.  He feels that Thompson belongs behind bars in a state prison for at least 10-years.  He vowed to the public of that state that he would appeal the judge’s decision within two weeks.

Many legal analysts believe that Judge Cecava’s decision of probation was far too lenient. Other individuals like Marla Sohl of the Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition stated, “I’m concerned about the message this sends to victims and perpetrators.”  She added, “This shows more concern is being placed on the criminal and his safety in prison than the victim.”

Thompson, 50, had sexual contact over a couple of months last year with a 12-year-old girl,” said Sidney Police Chief Larry Cox. “He was sentenced on two felony sexual assault charges.”

During the first four month of his probation, Thomson will be required to wear an electronic monitor (ankle bracelet), so that authorities will be able to monitor his every move.  In addition, he is required to remove from his possession any and all pornography.  Thompson was also ordered to never be alone with someone under age 18 or date or live with a woman whose children were under 18. was unable to reach Thompson’s attorney, Donald Miller and Judge Cecava for comment.

The following is some information on the Judge Kristine Cecava:  “Judge Kristine Cecava is one of eight female District Court Judges in the state of Nebraska. She received her law degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1976 where she was a member of the Law Review and received the Order of the Coif.”

She has served in a variety of positions including Country [sic] Attorney and County Judge prior to her appointment as District Court Judge in 1999 and was president of the Nebraska County Judges Association in 1996.  Her professional involvement has included the Nebraska Commission for the Protection of Children, the Supreme Court Gender Fairness Task Force, the Rural Resources Task Force, the NSBA Indigent Defense Task Force and the CSA/NSBA Special Committee to Review Nebraska Juvenile Codes. As an active wife and mother she also donates much of her time to community service.” (Chadron State College).



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