San Francisco, CA – A father found himself behind bars over seven years ago when he was found guilty on 28 counts of Aggravated Child Abuse. Thursday, he walked free.
Thomas Charles was serving a life sentence while a documentary was being filmed about his case and conviction. The documentary, titled Punished for Gravity, is not unlike the film Paradise Lost, which follows the trial of three wrongly-convicted murderers and had a hand in triggering their freedom.
Charles’ defense was an unusual one: the single father of a boy, Ronald Charles (now 15), claimed that his son was not the victim of child abuse, but that he was “just fucking clumsy.”
“You should see this fucking kid go down the stairs,” says Charles. “I swear to God, he hits his goddamn face on every single step. And somehow, he finds time to find the wall and the banister a few times on his way down, too. Just when his lips finally start to heal, he has an accident on his bike, which has four fucking wheels, by the way. Somehow, he got his shirt caught in the pedals and the chain… dragged his nose through the spokes and ripped out both of his cock-sucking eyebrows… Unreal, this kid. Meanwhile, he’s going to school, explaining that he got his hair caught in the car door again, and that’s somehow why he can’t see out of his left eye.”
Charles was initially questioned by a school counselor at St. Mathias in 2004, when Ronald was 7 years old. Belinda Charles, Thomas’ wife and Ronald’s mother, had just passed away from kidney disease six months prior, and it was suspected that the hard-luck father was taking it out on 7-year old Ronald.
“What would you think,” asks Marla Carlisle of St. Mathias, “if a child in your charge was showing up day after day with new bruises and scrapes and burns after being home alone with his newly-widowed father? You would think he was being abused, not that he has six times missed school due to alarm clock-related hospital visits. And that’s exactly what a jury thought, too.”
No one thought anything of Charles’ defense, other than its originality. Subsequently, no one thought much of his conviction either. That is, until Ronald, living with Ted and Nancy Subhue, his state-appointed foster parents, continued to show up to school appearing to be beaten and tortured.
“You should have seen this goddamn kid,” says Nancy Subhue. “We have three other foster children and two of our own living with us. Somehow, Ronald managed to keep his accidents to himself, but we were seriously afraid.”
“We had seen pictures of Ronald’s old house when he lived with his father,” says Ted Subhue. “It was part of his defense. Everything was padded… Everything. We didn’t buy into it at first. Eventually, we had to give in. It was like suddenly standing face-to-face with Bigfoot. At some point, you just have to believe. I think the turning point was when Ronald’s first golf lesson ended with him having his stomach pumped.”
Two years ago, film makers Brian LeFue and Christopher Bonwell approached the Subhues about their idea for a film. The Subhues were immediately on board. The finished product, though not finding any commercial success, did serve its purpose. Punished by Gravity convinced an appellate judge to overturn Thomas Charles’ guilty verdict. The film was never taken seriously by audiences due to the comedic value of its content.
Thomas plans to eventually go back to work as a day trader, but would like to relax as a free man for a while first. He has yet to pick up his son.
Ross Kelly thinks people falling down is pretty funny.