Monday, June 01, 2009

 

Andrew Thomas: A case of flawed testimony

Andrew Thomas was convicted and sentenced to death in 2001 for the April 1997 robbery and shooting of an armored truck guard, James Day, while Day was leaving a Memphis Walgreens with a money deposit bag. However, new evidence calls this conviction into question.

Following the shooting, Day was released from a rehabilitation center in July 1997 with a neurogenic bladder as well as a bowel condition. Nearly 2 and 1/2 years after the shooting, Day was hospitalized with blood in his urine as well as heart disease and diabetes. When he did not improve, surgery revealed a large tear in his bladder with high levels of bacteria in his bloodstream. Day died on October 2, 1999.

On April 21, 1997, Day was shot in the head and robbed outside a Memphis Walgreens but was conscious and alert when he arrived at the hospital. A woman saw the shooter grab Day's bag and get into a white car. She said that the driver was a heavyset black man, age 30-35. Another eyewitness viewed a photographic spread on two occasions, identifying the man in one photo as the driver of the getaway car--Bobby Jackson.

On the afternoon of the robbery, Keith Echols went shopping with his friend Anthony Bond. Bond bought a used car and other items, refusing to say how he had obtained the money for his purchases. Three weeks later, Bond told Echols that he was the one who shot the armored truck guard at Walgreens. Three months after the Walgreens robbery, Bobby Jackson was arrested and charged with a similar crime against an armored truck guard. While in custody awaiting trial, Jackson told an inmate that this was not his first time to commit such a robbery but was his first time to get caught.

In October of 1997, Anthony Bond was arrested for a different robbery. Memphis police compared his fingerprints with a print lifted from a passenger-side door of the Walgreens getaway car. The prints matched.

Anthony Bond became a suspect in the Walgreens robbery nearly two years before Mr. Day's death. Bond admitted that he had participated in the crime but told police that he drove the getaway car. Bond alleged that the shooter was Andrew Thomas. In Bond's typed confession, he claimed that he and Thomas planned the robbery, and that, after the robbery, they went to the home of Angela Jackson, Thomas's girlfriend at the time, and split the money in Angela Jackson's presence.

After James Day's death, Bond and Thomas were tried together before a single jury.

Bond's trial strategy was to admit participation in the crime but to deny that he shot Day instead claiming that Thomas was the shooter. When Bond opted not to testify, the State presented to the jury a redacted version of his typewritten confession which implicated Thomas, whose trial attorneys did not object. The jurors did not hear from eyewitnesses who remembered the driver of the getaway car as a heavyset black male, a description that fit Bobby Jackson but not Anthony Bond, who is six feet tall and quite thin. Nor did the jurors hear from Keith Echols, the man to whom Bond had admitted that he shot the armored car guard.

Regarding the death of James Day, the jurors heard testimony from the State's two medical experts, Dr. O.C. Smith and Dr. Cynthia Gardner. Smith testified that Day died as the result of an unbroken series of events that began with the gunshot wound. Smith concluded that Day's death was a homicide. When Gardner testified, she repeated that Day's blood pressure had dropped, causing an injury to Mr. Day's spinal chord. She explained that injuries in the lower thoracic spinal region commonly give rise to neurogenic bladders. Andrew's attorneys did not call any expert witnesses to challenge the testimony of Smith and Gardner. The jury found Bond and Andrew Thomas guilty of felony murder. On September 26, 2001, the jury returned a sentence of death for Thomas and a sentence of life without parole for Bond.

After the trial, Thomas wrote letters to various attorneys asking for help, consistently maintaining his innocence. He attracted the attention of his current attorneys at the Winston & Strawn law firm. Thomas had received a letter from Bond who admitted that he and Angela Jackson lied about the Walgreens robbery. "Me and . . . Angie played you playa," Bond wrote. "Its a cold game and a cold world and we in both of them so its freezing." Investigators had wanted a shooter, Bond said, "so I gave them you." Bond said he knew that Thomas had made advances toward his girlfriend. "Since you tried to cross me I crossed you," he wrote. Bond went even further in his letter. "Angie knew that me and Bobby hit the Fargo truck," he wrote. In fact, Bond explained that Angela Jackson had been fooling around with Bobby Jackson behind Andrew's back. So, "Angie didn't snitch on Bobby even though she knew the business." Bond's letter is now the centerpiece of Andrew's attempt to get his conviction overturned. In the fall of 2007, Bond admitted under oath that he was the writer of another handwritten letter that Andrew's lawyers had obtained. Experts then compared the two letters and concluded that the same person wrote both of them.

A second focus of Andrew's appeal is the trial testimony of the State's medical experts. Serious flaws in their testimony about the cause of James Day's death exist. In fact, Day's medical records do not support the claim that his blood pressure dropped as the medical examiners stated nor that his lower thoracic spine was damaged. Instead, records show his blood pressure was briefly elevated, and then returned to a normal range. The records also show that Day had an injury to the central part of his thoracic spine, not the lower part. The records do not establish any connection between this injury and the gunshot wound, nor do they support Gardner's testimony that an injury to the lower thoracic spine caused Mr. Day's neurogenic bladder.

Thomas's lawyers have also raised questions about the quality of the medical care that Day received during the years leading up to his death and during his final medical crisis. In the years before Day's death, why weren't his diabetes and heart disease diagnosed and treated? When Day had blood in his urine and was taking Coumadin, a potent anti-coagulant, why did his urologist recommend that he drink more fluids? Together with the flaws in the testimony of the State's medical experts, these and other questions cast a clearly reasonable doubt on the theory that Day's death was a homicide.




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