Michael Thornsbury resigned his position as Mingo County's only circuit judge Wednesday and admitted he conspired with other officials in his county to try and thwart an FBI investigation into the since-murdered Sheriff Eugene Crum.
Thornsbury, 57, admitted guilt in the conspiracy Wednesday during a plea hearing in federal court before U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston. Stephen Jory, Thornsbury's attorney, notified the governor's office earlier in the day that Thornsbury would step down.
"In other words, did you do it?" Johnston asked Thornsbury at one point during his hearing.
"Yes, sir," Thornsbury replied.
Thornsbury provided similarly brief answers during most of the roughly 40-minute hearing. Johnston did most of the talking, describing details of Thornsbury's plea deal and confirming both Thornsbury and the U.S. Attorney's Office agree on the facts of the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby represented the government in Wednesday's hearing. U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin watched the proceedings from the back of the courtroom, and said after its completion he was pleased with the outcome.
"A judge swears an oath to uphold the constitution and to abide by the highest standards of integrity," Goodwin said outside the courthouse in Charleston.
"For a judge to (have) violated someone's constitutional rights is really beyond the pale. But to violate someone's rights in order to obstruct a federal investigation, that's really unthinkable."
Thornsbury faced a slew of accusations. Through the plea agreement he admits guilt for his role in the conspiracy, in exchange for the federal government dropping a charge he repeatedly tried to frame the husband of an ex-lover.
The conspiracy involves Crum, Thornsbury, Mingo County Prosecutor Michael Sparks and other officials, according to a federal court filing called an information.
Crum allegedly owed George White, a Mingo County resident who ran a Delbarton-based sign shop, $3,000 for signs he purchased during his 2012 campaign for sheriff. Instead of settling the debt, the newly elected sheriff sent an informant to buy prescription pills from White, according to the information.
After White's arrest, his attorney, Charles "Butch" West, set up a meeting with the FBI. White told the federal investigators he repeatedly provided Crum with pills while Crum worked as a magistrate.
For the first time publicly, Thornsbury admitted Wednesday that Crum talked to him about West advising White to speak with FBI and media about his accusations. Thornsbury responded to a question from Johnston about this part of the conspiracy, one of the few times the details of the case were discussed.
Thornsbury admitted he told someone it was in White's best interest to switch attorneys. The judge advised the switch with the idea that the new attorney would not advise White to speak with the FBI. Thornsbury said he did it "in order to avoid public embarrassment" for Crum, he told Johnston.
The information alleges several officials, including Sparks and Mingo County Commissioner David Baisden, told White's brother about the advised attorney switch. White fired West, hired attorney Ronald Rumora, and received a lighter sentence.
The details of the conspiracy were discussed for about five minutes Wednesday. Johnston devoted the bulk of the hearing to making sure Thornsbury and his attorney, Stephen Jory, were on the same page with Ruby and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The deal stipulates Thornsbury can never again hold public office and can't appeal any future proceedings to strip him of his law license. He's free on a $10,000 unsecured bond.
While Thornsbury faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release, continued cooperation could lead to a more lenient sentence.