The Galveston County Daily News
Copyright © 2005 The Galveston County Daily News
Jury Considers Case of Grandson on Trial
By Scott E. Williams
Published December 15, 2005
TEXAS CITY — Jurors will return to the 122nd State District Court in
Galveston today to continue deliberations in the capital murder trial of
a teen who admitted to police he beat his grandparents to death.
The jury deliberated for about three hours Wednesday in the case of
Thomas Justin “T.J.” Thomas.
In closing arguments Wednesday afternoon, defense attorney Tad
Nelson painted Thomas, 19, as a slow-witted young man with an I.Q. of
90 who was coerced into participating in the deaths of William and
Pearl Clement. Nelson also said coercion led to Thomas making a
statement to police hours after the attack.
Prosecutors told jurors Thomas was a merciless murderer who valued
the lives of his grandparents less than the small amount of money he
and three others gained from their deaths.
Illustrating her point, prosecutor Stacey Jones emptied a small box
containing a few dollars in change onto a table.
“This is what their lives were worth to him,” she said.
The box was one of the items police found in a van containing Thomas
and three other teens. They also found a bloody tire iron and blood on
Thomas’ clothes that later proved to be that of the Clements.
Nelson said there was no disputing that his client was involved in the
crime, but accused prosecutors and police of “taking shortcuts” in
building the case against him.
Nelson took particular aim at the audiotaped statement in which
Thomas said, among other things, “They were screaming, and I started
Thomas was the only one of the four suspects whose statement was not
County Criminal District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk, in his rebuttal
argument, said Nelson’s points were attempts to muddle the fact that
Thomas obviously murdered his grandparents.
“This is the face of a cold-blooded killer,” he said, pointing at Thomas,
who was seated at the defense table.
Because prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty, a guilty verdict
in this case would mean an automatic life sentence for Thomas,
although he would become eligible for parole after 40 years. Nelson
told jurors the automatic life sentence left jurors with no good choice
and “paints you into a corner.”
Sistrunk later countered that the jury was only to consider Thomas’
guilt or innocence.
“He’s trying to make you hang your hat on something you’re not even
supposed to be considering,” he said.
Daniel Robert Northrup, 19; Eric Lee Kilman, 21; and Christine Marie
Cox, 21, also face capital murder charges in the case