The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

June 19, 2014

Work pal: Husband hinted at homicide

MILTON — Robert Thomas told co-workers during lunch at a Valley auto repair shop that he was thinking of ways to murder his wife, according to testimony during a nearly four-hour preliminary hearing Thursday.

“If he could figure out a way to kill her, he would,” David Winters testified in reiterating what he heard Thomas say nearly a year before Patricia Thomas, 64, was found dead April 14, 2012, in her home in Turbot Township.

Thomas, 67, appeared before Milton District Judge Mike Diehl on charges he killed his wife early that morning. At times Thomas cried, held his hands over his head and shut his eyes.

Winters testified he didn’t think much of the statement at the time, but after he heard of Patricia Thomas’ death, he remembered what her husband had said.

In the 20 minutes before he called 911, Thomas shot his wife to death from point-blank range, raced to his garage to find the leather gloves he would wear to stage a break-in scene, then called a dispatcher to frantically report a prowler, Milton state troopers testified.

During a return trip to the bedroom, after Thomas had opened various doors and cabinets to make it appear as if an intruder had rummaged through the house, he noticed his wife had fallen from the bed in which she was shot and onto the floor, police said.

Thomas, who lives at 1060 Phillips Road, initially told troopers that an unidentified person broke into the couple’s home, and that he remained in bed while retrieving a gun from a night stand before being “pounced on” by the prowler, troopers testified.

Thomas told police he believed the gun was fired after the prowler “pounced on him,” investigators said.

Thomas told police he was then struck over the head with an object, and that he was unsure whether the gun was fired during an altercation with the intruder or that his wife may have been shot during the struggle, police said.

A day later, during another interview with troopers, Thomas recanted his story, saying he accidentally killed his wife while handling a gun, according to police testimony.

Northumberland County Coroner Jim Kelley testified Thursday and read from an autopsy performed three days after Mrs. Thomas’ death. She had “blunt-impact injuries” to her face, scalp, right arm and left leg and there were indications she may have been smothered.

A forensic pathologist concluded that some of her injuries were consistent with defensive wounds that may have been suffered as she fought while being smothered.

“I’m not going to discuss my conversations with Mr. Thomas, but there was a string of intruders in the neighborhood in the weeks leading up to this,” defense attorney George E. Lepley, of Williamsport, said after the hearing.

Lepley said the case against Thomas is “bizarre.”

“Why wait two years to make an arrest?” Lepley said about the decision to arrest Thomas more than two years after the initial call was made to 911.

“In both statements my client made to police, he still claimed this was an accident.”

Thomas listened to testimony and at times wept when Northumberland County Assistant District Attorney Ann Targonski, who is prosecuting the case, displayed pictures of the crime scene.

Thomas didn’t say a word to reporters, but Targonski said she was pleased with Diehl’s decision to bound over charges, including criminal homicide to county court.

“We waited until we were able to get it right,” Targonski said of the two years before an arrest was made.

“These types of investigations take time and the crime labs are over-worked,” she said. “This was not an easy case to investigate and we wanted it all to be right.”

Thomas has filed for bail modification. Lepley said if the district attorney’s office doesn’t seek the death penalty, Thomas may get a reduced bail.

Mr. Thomas will appear in Northumberland County Court on July 21. He has been charged with criminal homicide and second-degree felonies of falsely incriminating another, and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence.

n Email comments to fscarcella@dailyitem.com.

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