Wagon train rape suspect gets two years in plea deal

Jeff Bobo • Jun 11, 2009 at 12:00 AM

ROGERSVILLE — A Church Hill man who was charged with rape in connection with an incident that occurred last August at a “wagon train” horse and buggy gathering pleaded guilty Wednesday to a reduced charge of sexual battery.

Joshua William Thomas, 23, 119 Dickerson Lane, Church Hill, was sentenced to two years in prison by Judge John Dugger in exchange for the guilty plea. He is now also a range two offender, which increases his parole eligibility from 30 percent to being required to serve at least 35 percent of his sentence.

In addition, Thomas was ordered to serve the remainder of a 20-month sentence from a Sullivan County conviction on statutory rape for which he’d been on probation at the time of his arrest. That will be served consecutively to the two-year sentence.

Although the incident occurred Aug. 31, 2008, Thomas wasn’t formally charged with rape until this past January after his DNA was allegedly matched to a sample found on the victim.

Thomas was scheduled to stand trial Wednesday on the charge but accepted the plea agreement instead.

“The victim signed a written recommendation, along with the investigating officer, to recommend this plea,” Assistant Attorney General Doug Godbee said. “The victim was satisfied that we were able to resolve it without a trial.”

Thomas was accused of taking advantage of a woman who’d passed out, apparently intoxicated during a “wagon train” gathering in the McPheeters Bend community where people get together and ride horses and travel in horse-drawn buggies and wagons.

According to the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office arrest warrant, the victim stated that her friend helped her into a horse trailer, where she went to sleep.

The woman stated that when she went to sleep she had her pants on. She was awakened by two of her male friends fighting with a third male who was later identified as Thomas. The woman told police she wasn’t wearing pants when she was awakened.

The two male friends told police they were walking near the horse trailer when they observed the door shaking. Upon closer inspection, they said they found a man with his pants around his knees having sex with the victim.

Thomas was interviewed by police on Sept. 5 and stated he was “using the bathroom” when the two male witnesses started chasing him and beat him up for no known reason.

Thomas also said he didn’t remember having sexual intercourse that night. He consented for a blood sample to be drawn and sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation crime lab for testing.

According to the arrest warrant, Thomas’ DNA matched that which was taken from the woman when she was examined at the hospital the night of the incident.

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