Commonwealth v. Jeffrey Allen Thomas
Pulaski County Circuit Court
Case Numbers CR00-844, CR000-845 and CR00-846
Tried to Jury by K. Mike Fleenor, Jr. and Peggy H. Frank
Capital Murder and Attempted Rape, Serving Life without parole
Jeffrey Allen Thomas was the first capital murder conviction in Pulaski County in over 50 years and the case generated more publicity than any other case since the Stephen Epperly case of the early 1980s.
In January 2000, sixteen year old Tara Rose Munsey failed to meet her father to attend a basketball game at a local high school. For the next three weeks family, friends and strangers worked together to find her. Vigils were held and search parties were formed. Finally on February 10, 2000 her body was found in a deep ravine near the railroad tracks next to the New River in the Parrott section of Pulaski County. She had been shot multiple times in the head and chest and there were signs of a sexual assault.
Eventually Thomas was arrested. He denied killing Tara and the Commonwealth was left with no confession and no eye witness. After numerous hearings and motions prior to trial, the case was heard by a jury over the course of almost 3 weeks in February and March, 2001. The Commonwealth’s case was based almost entirely on forensic evidence.
Shell casings from a .22 caliber rifle were found at the scene, as well as Tara’s t-shirt and cigarette filters and butts. The shell casings were compared to other casings fired from a known firearm – a Marlin .22 owned by Kevin Williams. He testified that he had left the gun with Thomas. The firearms expert testified that the shell casings found at the crime scene had been fired from the same gun that had been left with Thomas.
Tara’s t-shirt had what was described as a “footwear impression” made from a Nike Air Jordan tennis shoe. Thomas owned such a pair of shoes and when the soles of his shoes were compared to the impression on the t-shirt, the expert concluded that they “conformed” to each other.
During interviews with Thomas, law enforcement noticed that he had a particular manner of smoking a cigarette. His preferred brand was Marlboro “reds.” Thomas would light the cigarette and immediately tear off the filter and then smoke the remaining part without the filter. During a search of the crime scene, a Marlboro “red” filter was discovered and sent to the lab for testing.
Swabs of the victim’s body were collected. After months of testing, Thomas’ DNA was found to be present on the victim’s body, here inner thigh, under her fingernails and on the bottom of her shoe. Thomas’ DNA was also found to be present on the Marlboro cigarette filter that was found at the scene. After hearing all the evidence the jury convicted Thomas of capital murder.
Kitty Irwin, the mother of Tara Munsey was an opponent of capital punishment. During the investigation and trial preparation Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Fleenor and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Peggy Frank met on several occasions with Kitty and Tara’s father Bill Munsey. Although Kitty made it clear that she was opposed to a death sentence, Fleenor told her that he respected her position, but that any sentence was a decision for a jury. In fairness to Kitty, as the victim’s mother, Fleenor called her to testify at the sentencing hearing. After an eloquent and moving request to spare the life of her daughter’s killer, the jury nonetheless imposed a sentence of death. The verdict form indicated that the jury had made their decision based on the “vileness and inhumane nature of the offense.”
On appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed the decision after concluding that the case should have been moved out of Pulaski County due to the immense publicity of the case. After being reversed, Thomas pled guilty to capital murder, attempted rape and use of a firearm and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He is currently serving his sentence at Wallen’s Ridge Maximum Security Prison.
Southwest Times article: http://www.southwesttimes.com/2010/02/archive-4393/
The television program Forensic Files produced a very good documentary about this case. Click here to watch
An interesting, if not somewhat misguided analysis of the effects of victim impact testimony in this case was presented in the Washington and Lee University Law School Capital Defense Journal. That article can be viewed at: