Murder defendant gets court-approved road trip
SEATTLE — A Washington state judge is letting a murder defendant take a two-week, five-state road trip so she can attend her half-sister’s memorial service, go to the dentist and pick up some winter clothes.
Former hairdresser Peggy Sue Thomas was arrested this summer at her houseboat in New Mexico and charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors say that in 2003 she lured a man named Russ Douglas to the spot on Whidbey Island north of Seattle where he was killed.
Thomas, free on $500,000 bail, asked a judge this week for permission to attend a memorial for her recently deceased half-sister in Idaho, and to travel to New Mexico, Utah and Nevada to take care of a few chores — preparing to sell a house, going to her dentist, and picking up her winter clothes, among other things.
In an oral ruling on Monday, Judge Michael Moynihan agreed, over the objections of Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks. The judge also delayed Thomas’ arraignment a week, to Oct. 31, to accommodate the trip.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that,” Banks said Thursday. “We’re sure hoping she comes back.”
Thomas will be on GPS monitoring during her travels, but Banks said she may be out of signal range at various points — meaning the company that conducts the monitoring might not immediately know if she flees the country.
Her attorney, Craig Platt, did not return a call seeking comment Thursday. But in asking the judge for permission, he noted that she has so far complied with the terms of her pre-trial release and said she’d be happy to check in with law enforcement during her trip.
He laid out a tentative itinerary that includes Thomas driving to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, to attend the memorial before flying to Albuquerque, N.M., to stay with one of her daughters. She’ll then drive to her home in Roswell, N.M., to pick up photographs and other items she says could be crucial to her defense.
She also needs to arrange for repairs at the house so she can prepare to sell it to pay legal fees and living expenses, Platt wrote. After that, she’ll be driving to Clark County, Nev., to another property she owns there — one of two properties she put up as collateral for her bail. That home is also in need of maintenance, and if it doesn’t get it, Thomas might get fined by her homeowners association, Platt wrote.
Beyond that, he added: “Winter is coming and Ms. Thomas desires to winterize her houseboat in order to avoid extensive damages and incurring additional costs. Additionally, Ms. Thomas also needs to see her dentist who is also located out of state.”
“She seems to have a lot of resources, financially,” Banks said. “She certainly seems capable of hiring people to take care of those things on her behalf.”
The houseboat, named “Off the Hook,” was on Navajo Lake near Farmington, N.M., when she was arrested in July.
Thomas was accused of plotting with her boyfriend, James Huden, to kill Douglas, who was found shot to death in a car in Freeland, Wash., two days after Christmas in 2003. Huden was charged with murder in 2005 and arrested in Mexico in June; he has pleaded not guilty.
Thomas had once worked at a salon owned by Douglas’ wife.