(WIAT) — More than three decades after a Jefferson County woman was kidnapped and gang raped, her rapists were granted parole Wednesday.
Michael and Kenneth Thornton, who are brothers, were not scheduled for release until 2024, but because of a decision their victim made, they will be freed.
When it happened, it was one of Birmingham’s most notorious crimes.
In 1983, Wanda Miller was having dinner with her husband and friends at Baby Doe’s Matchless Mine in Birmingham.
“When I walked out — out of the restaurant, alone, this car pulled up and a man jumped out of it. And as I was walking down the sidewalk, ran past me and then turned quickly, grabbed me and then threw me into the car,” Miller said.
Miller was taken to a house in Pinson.
“From what I could remember and count, there were about seven men there that night and I was raped throughout the night,” Miller said.
The next morning, to Miller’s surprise, she was let go.
“That night, I went through a lot of emotions and accepted the fact that I probably would not live,” she said.
Miller said almost immediately after that night, she began what would be a long, arduous legal process.
Miller was only able to identify three of her captors. All of them were convicted.
“I was determined that they wouldn’t do this to anyone else,” Miller said. “That they would be stopped at that point. And that was my goal. And that’s what we’ve dealt with for the past 30-plus years.”
Stanley Wilson, the third man convicted, died in prison in 2013.
Miller said that over the years, she has been to at least eight parole hearings, and fought to keep the Thorntons in prison.
But when Wednesday’s hearing changed, Miller recommended the brothers be granted parole.
In a letter to the Board of Pardons and Paroles, Miller wrote that she’d spoken with the Thorntons’ brother, Thomas Thornton, Jr. She said that “(Thornton) has always been kind and respectful to me.”
“(Thornton) assured me that he and his family would support them with living arrangements, job possibilities and adherence to the Sex Offender registration that would be part of their conditions,” Miller wrote.
Despite her decision, Miller was nervous going into Wednesday’s hearing.
“I was still shaking inside with — knowing that I was going to hear those words, that they were paroled,” Miller said.
Miller said the terms of the Throntons’ parole would be better than the terms of finishing their sentence.
“I don’t want to see them re-offend. I don’t want to see them hurt another person,” Miller said. “But I think what we did today may help them from doing that. I hope so, and that’s all I can do, is hope.”
After 32 years, Miller says she is relieved that her ordeal is over.
But there is no doubt that her experience has shaped her life. A realtor before the night she was raped, Miller is now a victim advocate with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
“You don’t forget it. And i’ll never forget that night,” Miller said. “I’ll never ever forget that night and the way I felt and what happened to me, but it hasn’t defined me. It hasn’t ended my life. It’s only, in some ways, added to it. So, I feel pretty blessed.”
Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News