OAKLAND (BCN) — A 17-year-old Oakland boy who pleaded no contest to setting another teen’s skirt on fire on an AC Transit bus in Oakland in November 2013 had his state prison term reduced Monday from seven years to five years.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul Delucchi said he reduced the term for Richard Thomas, who was prosecuted as an adult, because he has made good progress in taking advantage of educational and counseling services since he’s been in custody following his attack on 19-year-old Luke “Sasha” Fleischman on Nov. 4, 2013.
Delucchi told Thomas that “you’ve taken advantage of this opportunity” and “showed a level of maturity that you didn’t exhibit on the day of the incident.”
Delucchi said Thomas’ good behavior “gives us reason for optimism.”
Fleischman, who was named Luke at birth but doesn’t identify as either male or female, suffered second- and third-degree burns after Thomas used a lighter to set Fleischman’s clothing on fire.
Fleischman was sleeping in the back of an AC Transit bus traveling near MacArthur Boulevard and Ardley Avenue in Oakland at around 5:20 p.m. on Nov. 4 when the incident occurred.
Fleischman was treated at the burn unit at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco for three weeks. He was released the day before Thanksgiving in 2013 and returned to his classes at Maybeck High School in Berkeley the following week.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office charged Thomas with aggravated mayhem and assault as well as a hate crime enhancement clause.
But last Oct. 16 prosecutors agreed to a plea bargain in which Thomas pleaded no contest to assault. The mayhem charge and hate crime enhancement were dismissed.
On Nov. 14 Delucchi sentenced Thomas to seven years in state prison but said Thomas could have his term reduced if he showed good progress before his 18th birthday, which is this Thursday.
Thomas’ attorney, William DuBois, said that Thomas has been serving his time at a Division of Juvenile Justice facility and he hopes juvenile officials keep Thomas at the juvenile facility instead of a state
prison so he can be housed with inmates his own age and continue to get an education.
DuBois characterized the burning incident as a prank that got out of control and said Thomas was “mortified” when Fleischman became engulfed in flames.
He said Thomas “still feels regret for what he did.”
Fleischman didn’t attend Thomas’ re-sentencing hearing but he attended an initial hearing on the matter last Friday with his parents.
His father, Karl Fleischman, said on Friday that the Fleischman family was “moved to tears” when they received two letters from Thomas in which he took full responsibility for his actions.
DuBois said Thomas wrote the letters shortly after the crime but he didn’t give them to Fleischman’s family until after Thomas was sentenced because they could have been used as evidence in the case.
Karl Fleischman said Sasha and the rest of the family support having Thomas get a reduced sentence because they want him to continue to get support at a juvenile facility so he can make something of his life after he’s released.
Fleischman said Thomas “made a mistake” that was “impulsive and unpremeditated.”
Fleischman said Thomas wasn’t the only teen on the bus when Sasha’s clothes were set on fire and said the other teens sat by “laughing at the sight” of the fire.
Fleischman said he hopes Thomas “can become an ally and stand up against the bullying of gay and transgender people.”