March 21, 2023

ELKHART, Ind. (AP) – A judge rejected a plea agreement Monday for a woman accused of helping her boyfriend set fire to several northern Indiana barns, citing her plea deal’s lack of prison time.

Sherry Thomas, 33, of Nappanee had reached a plea agreement that includes an admission to one felony count of arson in the string of eight barn burnings. Thomas was charged last year with eight counts of arson and one felony count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Her boyfriend, Joseph Hershberger, was sentenced last week to 50 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to torching eight barns last year in Elkhart County.

But Elkhart County Superior Court Judge Stephen Bowers said Monday he rejected Thomas’ plea agreement because it doesn’t specify the length of her sentence and calls for any prison time that’s not suspended to be served in a community corrections program, The Elkhart Truth reported.

Bowers said he didn’t know what unique circumstances or issues with evidence may have led to prosecutors offering a plea with those terms. But he said he was too well acquainted with the accusations against Thomas to accept it.

“I will not accept this plea because it doesn’t call for any period of incarceration,” the judge said.

Bowers, who set Thomas’ next court appearance for Dec. 5, said he would arrange a meeting for the attorneys to discuss the terms of a new plea agreement.

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