A former Greencastle man got what his court-appointed attorney James Recker said "might look like the deal of the century" Thursday in Putnam County Circuit Court.
Thomas L. Gorham III, 28, of Centralia, Mo., was in court to be sentenced on what were originally charges of Class A felony dealing in methamphetamine and Class B felony dealing in methamphetamine.
But under the terms of a plea agreement Gorham -- who spent one day in jail after being arrested and posting bond in October of 2007 -- pled guilty to one Class D felony possession of meth charge and was given an 18-month suspended sentence.
Senior Judge Diana LaViolette seemed shocked by the drop in the charges against Gorham, and asked Prosecutor Tim Bookwalter for an explanation -- noting that people "spend more time in jail for driving on a suspended license" than Gorham would for a much more serious charge.
Bookwalter explained that a delay in charging Gorham was at the root of the plea agreement. An investigation into Gorham's suspected drug dealing activities began in August 2006, with controlled buys being conducted by law enforcement officers.
It was September of 2007, Bookwalter said -- over a year later -- when formal charges were filed against Gorham.
In the time between the controlled buys and when Gorham was charged, Gorham got his life together.
"The buys were conducted in 2006 and the charges were filed in 2007," Bookwalter said. "In the meantime, Mr. Gorham moves to Missouri, gets a $35,000-a-year job, licks his drug problem and starts taking care of his children."
Bookwalter called Gorham "a success story."
"I know I'm going to be subject to criticism, but I stand by my decision," Bookwalter said.
Putnam County Probation Officer Cody Tillotson conducted a pre-sentence investigation in the case, and said he received confirmation that Gorham had completed an eight-month outpatient drug treatment program in Missouri.
Gorham said the impetus for his recovery was his fiancee and their three children, ages 6, 4 and 1 1/2.
"I looked at my kids and I knew I had to do something," Gorham said. "I moved away from all my influences up here, and it's been a great thing."
Gorham is now working two jobs -- one in the IT department of a retail chain, and one as a front desk clerk at a hotel. He is also working toward a college degree, and he and the mother of his children are planning to marry in the near future, he said.
Toward the end of the hearing, LaViolette asked Gorham how it was that she should be "convinced to accept a plea of this nature."
"I'm a changed person," Gorham said. "I don't want to be the person I was anymore. I didn't care about anyone but myself, and now I can see what I've missed. I can't believe I was that stupid or that blind."
Recker said he believed his client was sincere.
"He's passed drug screens; he has a young family," Recker said. "He knows he'll never have an opportunity like this again."
LaViolette ordered that in addition to probation, Gorham must also remain employed, continue to attend substance abuse support group meetings and establish paternity for his three children.