HARLINGEN, Texas (AP) – An ex-convict who pleaded no contest to sexually abusing his daughter was sentenced to 320 hours of community service crocheting blankets.

Despite an outcry over the seemingly lenient sentence, the prosecutor said he had been ready to dismiss the case against Robert Wayne Thompson for lack of evidence.

The charges surfaced during a dispute over custody of the child, when Thompson’s ex-wife accused him of sexually abusing their 8-year-old daughter and filed civil and criminal complaints against him. Thompson had earlier served five years in a Virginia prison for sexual assault.

The criminal case became shaky after the girl told the judge in the civil case that her mother had told her to say Thompson abused her.

So state District Judge Rose Guerra Reyna, in the criminal case, agreed last week to a plea bargain that requires Thompson to register as a sex offender, be under probation – and spend 320 hours crocheting afghans.

Thompson is disabled with a heart condition and can’t do anything strenuous, but he can crochet and has made numerous blankets for nursing home patients, the prosecutor said in explaining the sentence.

Dianne Clements of the victims rights group Justice for All told CNN, “The judge lost her mind,” and local newspaper received letters complaining about the sentence.

The judicial code prohibits Guerra Reyna from publicly responding to the critics. But a colleague, retired state District Judge Fernando Mancias, said she considered it fair because no one could prove the allegations against Thompson.

Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra said he had authorized dismissal of the case because of conflicts in testimony and evidence.

Thompson said he decided to plead no contest at the advice of his two public defenders.

The attorneys did not immediately return calls for comment. The child’s mother, Norma de la Torre, could not be reached for comment.

AP-ES-08-05-05 2129EDT

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