As her defense attorney said, Ashley Thomas will be an old woman when she’s eligible to be released from prison.
Wednesday, the mother of four was sentenced to 40 years in prison for allowing and participating in the abuse of one of her children.
Last month she was convicted on two counts of aggravated child neglect, one count of facilitation of sexual exploitation of a minor, three counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, three counts of criminal responsibility for rape of a child and two counts of continual sexual abuse (child protection act).
At Wednesday’s hearing, the victim at the center of the case took the stand to share her thoughts with her biological mother.
“My mom said not to hate you, but I can’t forgive you right now,” the 12-year-old said. “I hope you get better on the inside.”
She told Thomas that she should be watching her grow up, but instead will have plenty of time in prison to think about what she’d done.
“Because of what you let happen to me, I am the strong, brave, proud, confident young woman I am today. Maybe you deserve a second chance, maybe you don’t, that’s up to God and Jesus.”
The victim’s 10-year-old sister also shared a quick statement defining a mother.
“But you’re none of those things,” she said. “I hope you learn your lesson while you’re in jail.”
Both girls, and their younger sister, were removed from Thomas’s custody when the allegations were made in January 2017. They have since been adopted and no longer live in Tipton County.
Thomas went on to have another child who remains in the custody of her father, who is Thomas’s fiance.
He spoke at Wednesday’s hearing, telling the court Thomas “showed nothing but love and affection” for their toddler daughter.
“She was the backbone to raising her,” he said.
Thomas’s mother and brother also spoke on her behalf, corroborating her fiance’s statements.
“She’s a good mom,” her brother said. “She’s not a horrible person.”
Thomas, who is 30, will be approaching 70 years old when she’s eligible for release. Her daughters will be 42-52 years old.
David Henson, with whom she participated in the rape and abuse of her daughter, took a plea deal in 2018 and is serving a 25-year sentence at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility for rape of a child. He will be eligible for release in 2043.
Thomas chose a trial instead of taking a plea.
Her attorney pleaded Thomas, who is a violent sex offender, wasn’t “a danger to anybody.”
“She’ll be doing more time than David, who was actually the perpetrator.”
She will be transferred into the custody of the Tennessee Department of Corrections and will be moved to another facility.
She will be eligible for release in the year 2060.
A bizarre request
During a recess while the court waited on a witness, defense attorney Vicky Green walked to the gallery of people spectating during the sentencing hearing of Ashley Thomas then asked those seated to identify themselves and tell her why they were in the courtroom.
Seated were other defense attorneys, prosecutors, court officials, Department of Children’s Services employees and two of Ashley Thomas’s biological daughters and their adoptive mother.
Attorneys rarely, if ever, speak to anyone not involved the court proceedings.
“Are you all witnesses?”
“No ma’am, those are people waiting to see your client go to jail for as long as possible,” responded assistant district attorney Jason Poyner.
The Tennessee Supreme Court allows 50 people inside a courtroom, but requires everyone inside the building to wear masks. Green, who’d taken her mask off at the beginning of the exchange, complained that people were sitting too close together.
“Go call the pandemic police,” suggested ADA Walt Freeland.
Green discontinued her questioning several minutes later.