September 30, 2004

500 yard stare, prison for life

Two stone-cold killers have given my Idaho p.d. friends tsuris this week. Across the canyon, on the witness stand or out in the courthouse hallway, my chief deputy has been reliving a bad experience, second-chairing the death penalty trial of Jimmie Vurel Thomas. His latest post-conviction relief hearing has been going all week.

In 1999, a jury found that Thomas entered the house of his ex-wife, Anna Marie Thomas, chased his victim Steve Louder into a back bedroom and killed him with four shots from a large-caliber revolver, including one shot to the head. Thomas got the death penalty. He escaped it once before, when a California jury trying him for murder deadlocked 20 years ago. Between the time of the Idaho murder and his arrest in Las Vegas, Thomas was supected of shooting big game hunter Willem Wittmaekers, whose body was found stuffed into a freezer in South Africa. Mr. Thomas now finds himself waiting to be executed.

My chief deputy and her first chair of course are now blamed for Mr. Thomas' predicament. Sadly, PCR's and ineffective claims are how the game is played.

In Canyon County, my colleagues Scott Fouser and Klaus Wiebe took me in during my unsuccessful 7-month stab at private practice, then came to my aid when I got my first death penalty client. They were with me when I saw that client go away for life without parole, which broke my heart but perversely counted in this trade as a "win." Today they "won" another one, Abel Leon. The prosecutors admitted that they mistakenly let the guy out of jail shortly before he murdered his wife, even though he was facing prison time on another case and had previously stalked and beaten her. Even through sentencing, Leon maintained that he wasn't even there when his wife was dragged from a car in front of her children and shot three times last spring.

Remorseless MF's = LWOP. Or worse. If you looked into these guys' eyes, it'd be hard to wish them a better fate.