By Ron Gregory
WILLIAMSON – A Mingo County man claims he was involved in a scheme and forced to plead guilty to illegal drug charges to protect former circuit judge Michael Thornsbury.
Albert Warren Childress maintains he was a “victim of corruption and victim of circumstance” in the Mingo County case. Childress has already been released from jail while a petition to have a judge set aside his guilty plea, conviction and sentence is considered. A hearing is set for later in August in Mingo County Circuit Court, where he filed his recent lawsuit.
Childress’ attorney David Barney wrote that his client was a “bystander caught in a web of deceit and corruption spun by … Thornsbury in an attempt to frame Williams’ private investigator Donald Stevens on a bogus wiretapping charge.”
Stevens had earlier sued Thornsbury, Sparks and others, saying they created bogus charges against him because they felt he was investigating the now-defrocked judge. Thornsbury pleaded guilty earlier this year to federal corruption charges and is now housed in a Florida prison camp.
Stevens has maintained that he received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice saying he had been a victim of deprivation of his civil rights. The private investigator said he was arrested on Thornsbury’s orders and given the choice of moving out of Mingo County or going to jail.
Sparks also is serving time in a federal facility after pleading guilty to depriving another man of his civil rights.
Interim Mingo Circuit Judge John Cummings released Childress from his one-to-three-year prison sentence in March 2013. The judge said he needed to evaluate the petition filed by Childress. Cummings no longer lives in Mingo County after the appointment of Judge Miki Thompson, who replaced Thornsbury.
Childress says he was visiting the home of Christina Tidwell Cline on Aug. 9, 2012, when a search warrant was executed at her home. Childress says the late Mingo Sheriff Eugene Crum and former Williamson Police Chief David Rockel provided false information to obtain the warrant. He argues that the warrant was obtained so police could find wiretapping devices to show that Stevens was investigating the judge.
While executing the search warrant, police reported they found quantities of cocaine and marijuana, along with a set of scales in the house. They arrested Childress, Cline and two others.
Knowing the corruption at the Mingo County Courthouse would lead to his eventual conviction, perhaps on more serious charges, Childress agreed to “involuntarily plead guilty to the lesser charge of attempted possession of a Schedule II controlled substance,” his narrative says.
Crum, who had also been a Mingo magistrate, was shot to death in April 2013 across from the Williamson courthouse.
Boone County Prosecutor Keith Randolph is the special prosecutor in the Childress criminal case since the attorney who replaced Sparks as prosecutor, Teresa Maynard, was disqualified from the case because she is a former assistant to Sparks.
Rockel left the Williamson Police Department and took a job with the Mingo County Sheriff’s Department but has since been terminated.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia Booth Goodwin has said the investigation is continuing.