Richard Thomas, 17, was charged with hate crimes when the incident first occurred, but on Friday, a plea deal was reached on assault charges. The hate crime and aggravated mayhem charges, which carry a sentence of life in prison, were dropped. Surveillance video recorded on the bus led to Thomas’s arrest a few days after the event took place.
Sasha Fleischman, who identifies as agender instead of male or female, received second- and third-degree burns after Thomas set her skirt ablaze on November 4, 2013. Thomas later told authorities he was homophobic.
Fleischman, a student at Maybeck High School in Berkeley, received treatment in the burn unit at St. Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco for three weeks.
“This is horrible what you did, but we don’t hate you,” Fleischman’s mother, Debbie Crandall told Thomas at a court hearing on Friday. Bay Area residence rallied in support of the victim by wearing skirts to school and lining the streets with rainbows.
Fleischman’s parents had previous “mixed emotions” about Thomas’s prison sentence. They had been fighting for him to be tried as a juvenile instead of as an adult. On Friday, they felt his sentence was too harsh. “The thing that struck me when he walked in was, my God, he’s just a kid, he’s still a young kid,” said father of the victim Karl Fleischman of Thomas.
Thomas’s defense attorney, William DuBois, earlier stated that his client was only trying to pull a simple prank with a small puff of smoke, and was “mortified” when Fleischman became engulfed in flames. Thomas declined his right to speak in court. His family and legal representative said the teen felt sorry for what they believed was a ‘prank gone wrong.’
“I know he is a good kid, he just made a bad mistake,” said Angelia Staten, Thomas’s cousin. “I just pray everything works out for him.”