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Oakland Boy Who Lit Agender Teen on Fire Found Guilty, Faces 7 Years

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The 17-year-old Oakland boy who lit a sleeping, agender teen's skirt on fire last year on an AC Transit bus is facing a seven-year prison sentence after accepting a plea deal Thursday.

Richard Thomas, who was being tried as an adult, pleaded no contest and was found guilty of felony assault with a sentence enhancement for "inflicting great bodily injury," according to the Alameda County District Attorney's office. Other counts were dismissed.

Sasha Fleischman suffered second- and third-degree burns after the assault on Nov. 4, 2013. Fleischman identifies as genderqueer, neither male nor female.

Sasha Fleischman (fundly)
Sasha Fleischman (fundly)

The incident garnered attention as an alleged hate crime after prosecutors said Thomas told police he was “homophobic.”

Thomas' defense attorney William Du Bois said Thomas, then 16, didn't mean to say that he was homophobic, rather heterosexual, “neither of which he can spell.”


Du Bois said police laughed and did not take the time to clarify the statement, which came back to haunt Thomas, who he says is remorseful.

“He was prepared to acknowledge his responsibility early on,” Du Bois said. “He has written letters to the kid who was burned, feels terrible about it, has always felt terrible about it, would like to personally apologize.”

Fleischman's mother, Debbie Crandall, said her family may be open to meeting with Thomas and has mixed emotions about the sentence.

“We’re relieved that Sasha won’t have to go to trial and re-live what happened a year ago," Crandall said. "But at the same time, we really feel for Richard and his family. Because of what seems like a childish, impulsive, tragic lack of judgment on the part of Richard, he and his family are going to be suffering from this.”

She said, “A 16-year-old’s actions -- however severe the results -- don’t have any place in the adult judicial system.”

Crandall said she made efforts with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the National Council on Crime & Delinquency to convince the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to pursue a restorative justice process, but the DA’s office refused.

“I’m sad that this means he’s a felon for life,” Crandall said. “I wish there had been another way for this to be resolved that did not involve adult court -- a place where Richard would really have the chance for rehabilitation.”

Crandall said that although Fleischman still has scars, the teen still wears skirts and is now thriving as a student at MIT.

Du Bois says today’s agreement comes after he was unable to convince Thomas’ parents, who he says “love him very much,” to take a 5-year deal a month ago.

Thomas now faces the potential of seven years in state prison, he will be held with the Department of Juvenile Justice until his 18th birthday next year. With good behavior and performance in rehabilitative programs, he could be re-sentenced to five years, which could be served in juvenile custody.

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