Teen sentenced to 7 years in detention for assault of agender student

Isaac Smith/Staff

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OAKLAND — Richard Thomas, 17, was sentenced to seven years in juvenile detention Friday for assaulting Sasha Fleischman in November of 2013. Thomas pled guilty to lighting the skirt of the agender teen on fire as the victim slept on an AC Transit bus.

The sentence was a result of a plea deal in which multiple enhancements were dropped in exchange for a guilty plea. Thomas was charged as an adult.

The teen was charged with felony assault, with an enhancement of inflicting great bodily injury. Thomas will be eligible for parole after five years if he complies with the terms of his sentence and demonstrates good behavior while in detention.

Fleischman, who identifies as agender, was a resident of Oakland and a student at Berkeley’s Maybeck High School at the time. While Thomas said the act was a prank, police said the attack was partially motivated by homophobia.

In a statement, Debbie Crandall, the victim’s mother, described finding her child seriously injured and called the attack “a terrible, horrible thing to do.” She said while she didn’t understand the actions of Thomas, she hoped he could learn from the incident and come out of his detention a better person.

“We don’t hate you, and we don’t want to you to come out of prison full of hate,” she said in court to Thomas.

Thomas remained silent throughout the proceedings with his head bowed, looking up only briefly when addressed by the victim’s mother.

Thomas is scheduled for a progress review in February. His behavior will be assessed again prior to his 18th birthday, and, if his behavior is deemed satisfactory, his sentence may be reduced.

Defense lawyer William Du Bois, speaking on behalf of Thomas, addressed the court to say Thomas had prepared a statement but did not feel able to deliver it at that time. Du Bois said his client had “never expressed anything except abject remorse and regret.”

Upon delivering the sentence, Judge Paul DeLucchi said the event had forever altered the lives of those involved and was a “tragedy for the family and the victim and for Thomas.”

Du Bois said his client has the opportunity to turn his life around. When asked if Thomas would be able to comply with the behavior terms of his sentence, Du Bois said he didn’t know if his client would but believed Thomas had the capacity to do so.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, the parents of the victim said the teen had “moved on” from the incident and was currently studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They expressed sympathy for the defendant’s family, with whom they have had ongoing contact.

“Your family has surely suffered as we have,” Crandall said.

Contact Isaac Smith at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @IsaacGSmith.

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  • 1776

    This kid sounds like an asshole out of a cheesy 80’s 90’s highschool comedy. Setting someone’s skirt on fire, come on. But 7 years?? Ehh not sure how I feel about that.

    • xxpinkprincessnekoxx

      “Fleischman’s injuries required three surgeries and three weeks in the burn unit”

      • R. G. Price

        Perhaps, but that doesn’t seem to have been the intended outcome. I agree with the others. What he did was bad, and deserves punishment, but I fail to see how 7 years in prison is gong to make anything better for anyone, nor do I think it is needed to teach the kid a lesson.

        But then again, I’m against trying juveniles as adults (ever) and I’m against long prison terms in general, except in the most extreme cases of violent crime.

        • ” that doesn’t seem to have been the intended outcome.”

          What do you suppose the outcome is going to be when setting someone on fire? If someone is “just joking around” and they decide to keel-haul a queer kid behind a pickup truck but “didn’t mean any harm” should that be treated with kid gloves, too? Maybe just laughed off as “kids just having some fun”? What sort of message does that send to the next would be attacker?

  • What he did was extremely sh*tty, but is 7 years of tax-payer funded jail going to do him any good? He came into jail a hooligan but he’s going to come out a career criminal. I bet none of the #prisionreform people will bat an eye though.

    “I don’t want to be too harsh, because people do dumb things, especially when they’re teenagers,” Fleischman said.

    • What do you suggest might be the solution in this particular case, given the resources available, please?