HAMILTON, GA. – Former Harris County sheriff’s deputy Thomas Carl Pierson, reduced to tears and facing the possibility of more than eight decades in prison if a Superior Court judge gives him the maximum sentence, was taken into custody Wednesday by deputies he once served alongside.
Just before noon on Wednesday, Pierson was convicted of eight of 12 charges, including two counts of sexual assault on a person in custody, by a nine-women, three-man jury that deliberated for more than seven hours over two days. He was acquitted of the most serious charge, aggravated sodomy, in which a woman claimed he forced her to perform oral sex during a 2016 traffic stop.
Shortly after Judge Bobby Peters read the verdict in a quiet third-floor courtroom, Pierson broke down, sobbing as he spoke to his attorney, then hugged family members. The two deputies who took him into custody gave Pierson a couple of minutes to say his goodbyes.
The jury’s mixed verdict came down to the facts presented during the four days of testimony, said the jury foreperson, a 26-year-old black woman who works as a registered nurse.
She said that the jurors took their responsibility seriously over the seven days of jury selection, testimony and deliberation. They looked solely at the evidence presented during the four days of testimony, she said.
“What we think does not matter; what we feel does not matter,” she said after the verdict. “There were various ages, backgrounds and strong personalities on this jury. And we went by the evidence only.”
At times during the roughly seven hours of deliberations, the discussion got heated, she said.
“And when it did, we would just take a break,” she said.
The two counts of sexual assault on a person in custody each carry a punishment of 1 to 25 years in prison and up to a $100,000 fine to be determined by Judge Bobby Peters.
Pierson’s charges stemmed from three traffic stops in the fall of 2015 and February 2016, in which three different women accused the deputy of misconduct, ranging from stalking to forcing one woman to perform oral sex.
All eight of the convictions — the two counts of sexual assault on a person in custody, four counts of violation of public oath, false imprisonment and tampering with evidence — pertained to Pierson’s duties as a law enforcement officer.
The four acquittals — aggravated sodomy, sexual battery and two counts of stalking — came on charges where it was Pierson’s testimony against the testimony of the three women, said defense attorney Bernard S. Brody, a high-profile Atlanta lawyer who specializes in sex crime cases.
“My reaction is clear that the jury did not believe the allegations by the three women,” he said. “He was only convicted of the charges connected to being a police officer.”
Pierson’s wife, Amy, spoke briefly to reporters as she left the courtroom, echoing the comments of her husband’s attorney.
“Obviously, the jury did not believe any of the three of them,” Amy Pierson said. “The others were because he was a police officer and I guess they are held to a different standard.”
The three women chose not to speak to reporters after the trial.
Wednesday morning, the emotional toll the trial had taken on two of the accusers was evident. The jury, which was more than five hours into deliberations, asked Peters to listen to two audio tapes of the woman who accused Pierson of forcing her to perform oral sex on him. Pierson’s testified that the act was consensual.
In the tapes, the woman was being interviewed by investigators from the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
During the playing of those recordings, the woman being interviewed was sobbing as she sat on the front row near the jury box. Another woman who accused Pierson of stalking her the day after a Oct. 19, 2015, traffic stop that last more than 40 minutes also was emotional as she listened to the tape.
Assistant District Attorney Sheneka Jones and Brody met with 11 of the 12 jurors for almost a half hour after the verdict was read.
“I think they looked at the evidence and considered the facts,” Jones said. “I think they made the best decision they could based on the facts they were given. … They did an excellent job considering the facts, and that is all that we can ask of them.”
Asked about the acquittal on the aggravated sodomy and sexual battery charges, Jones said the jurors were clear.
“They didn’t feel like the evidence proved it,” she said.
Despite the fact that Pierson was acquitted of the most serious offense, Assistant District Attorney Bill Lisenby Jr., the lead prosecutor, said he was pleased with the verdict.
“It is a major step regarding making sure that the people we trust in government follow the laws,” he said. “That happened in this case. It is very important that the people in government follow the rules and laws.”
Peters did not set a sentencing date, but Brody said he expected it to be in the next two to three weeks. Pierson’s fate is now in the judge’s hands because there is a wide sentencing range that Peters can consider.
If the judge were to stack all of the sentences, Pierson could be facing up to 81 years in prison for the eight counts on which he was convicted. He could also get as little as one year in prison. Peters can also run the sentences concurrently.
Brody, who spent most of the trial discrediting the three women, said that you have to look at the totality of the verdict.
“There is a wide range and the judge has a lot of discretion in what he can do,” Brody said. “I hope he will consider that the jury did not believe the allegations of the three women. That’s what is important here.”
Brody described the emotional scene as Pierson said his goodbyes to family members.
“They are heartbroken,” he said. “They lost a son, a nephew, husband and father.”
Pierson and his wife have four children in a blended family.