Tristan Thomas: Cincinnati sailor sentenced to 22 years in Conn. sex abuse case

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GROTON, Conn. -- A military judge has sentenced a Connecticut-based Navy hospital corpsman to 22 years in prison for sexually assaulting minors and possessing and producing child pornography.

The Day of New London reports 31-year-old Tristan Thomas of Cincinnati was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty to 22 of 26 counts against him under the military's criminal code. Under a pretrial agreement, the full sentence of 70 years will be suspended after 22 years.

His two-day court-martial was held at the Naval Submarine Base at Groton, where he served aboard the USS Springfield.

Most of the charges related to a two-year sexual relationship Thomas acknowledged with a girl that began when she was 14, and a three-year relationship with a 15 year old. There were other victims between the ages of 13 and 16 in the case.

Now 17 years old, the teen victim was accompanied by her father at court for Thomas' sentencing. The Day reports she told the judge she met Thomas in February 2011. She said Thomas had used her and took advantage of loneliness she was feeling at the time. 

The victim also told the court of the pressure she felt from her relationship with Thomas, and that she had tried to take her life, The Day reports. 

"I want him to know how badly he hurt me," she said. "… I want him to know he took my childhood from me."

Thomas made an unsworn statement to the court. According to The Day, he looked right at the girl, apologized to her and her family, and the others he victimized. Thomas said he too, was a victim of similar acts when he was 14 and 20 years old, but he recognized that was no excuse for his behavior. 

Thomas, the father of a 5-year-old son, spoke in court about being away from him. 

Thomas has a 5-year-old son. Being away from him, Thomas said, "is the cross I will have to bear for causing pain to so many other children and grief for their families."

Senior trial counsel for the Region Legal Service Office Mid-Atlantic Lt Cmdr. William H. Weiland asked the court Tuesday to life in prison with the possibility for parole and dishonorable discharged from the Navy. 

According to The Day, Weiland made a point that it's "hard to put into words the depravity" of Thomas' actions, since he preyed on the insecurity of young girls.

At Thomas' defense, Lt. James M. Belforti said Thomas had "done monstrous things, but he's not a monster." 

Belforti asked for a 13-year sentence for Thomas. 

"He robbed the childhood of others, he shouldn't be able to enjoy the childhood of his son," Belforti said.

The Day says in addition to confinement, Thomas was sentenced to a reduction in rate to the lowest pay grade and a dishonorable discharge for violating the articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He faces charges for possessing and producing child pornography under the general article. His military pay will automatically be forfeited, and he will be required to register as a sex offender.

On Monday, Thomas was questioned by military judge, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Charles C. Hale. He spent about eight hours going over the charges, and asked Thomas to explain what he was admitting to and how he violated each article, at his own will and how he damaged his underage victims. 

Thomas admitted to Hale, saying he understood the physical anatomy of a developing child because he was a father himself. The Day says Thomas admitted to keeping child pornography stored on his computer and external hard drives, but never reported them to law enforcement. 

Thomas also said he sent explicit images of himself to some of the teens, and recorded video of sex acts with one victim on his phone. 

Spending 11 years in the Navy, Thomas worked on two carriers and a submarine. He worked with the Army in Afghanistan for 18 months. In May 2011, Thomas was in Springfield as the only medical provider on a boat and became a qualified submariner, The Day reports. 

Thomas is being held at the Wyatt Detention Center Facility in Central Falls, R.I. 

 

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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