Federal prosecutors want jurors in an upcoming gun trial to know about the suspect's gang membership and the gun's link to a 2010 murder in northeast Spokane.
Edward Lee "TD" Thomas, 26, is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm for a Ruger mini 30 rifle found in a Nissan Altima rental car near the body of John S. Williams, 38, who was shot to death on Jan. 17, 2010, outside a party at 5405 N. Cresline St.
The gun had Thomas' fingerprints on it. He was arrested in Los Angeles in September 2010 on a second-degree murder charge and is in Spokane County Jail awaiting trial. Spokane County prosecutors dismissed the murder charge but will refile once Thomas' federal gun charge is resolved.
Trial on the gun charge is set to begin July 23 in U.S. District Court in downtown Spokane.
The U.S. Attorney's Office has filed a motion asking that jurors be allowed to hear testimony about the shooting. Thomas' lawyer, Bryan Whitaker, has objected and points to the fact that Thomas hasn't even been convicted of murder.
"The logic here is flawless: since John Williams was shot with a firearm, Mr. Thomas could only have shot him while in possession of a firearm," Whitaker wrote in a response to the motion. "The fallacy of this logic is that it relies completely on Mr. Thomas being the person who shot John Williams. The jury, therefore, would be invited to convict Mr. Thomas of Felon in Possession of Firearm because the Government believes he shot John Williams."
Thomas is accused of shooting Williams multiple times, including a final shot to his face. Police and prosecutors say the shooting stemmed from a gang rivalry, and prosecutors want to experts to tell jurors about Thomas' ties to the Atlantic Drive Compton Crips.
Police say Thomas acquired the firearm after a dispute with Jerome Danner, a member of the Grape Street Crips. The groups were at a birthday party for Ronald L. “Heavy” Shuler when a fight broke out. Williams, who was linked to Danner, punched out a window to a car in which Thomas was before he was shot by Thomas, police say.
But Whitaker said the relationship between Thomas and Danner was not based on gang member but on the fact that they each have a child with the same woman.
"The acrimonious relationship between gangs has no bearing on issues in this case. The theory here is that gang membership is the motive for possessing a firearm. That logic would permit the admission of gang-related testimony in EVERY case involving a gang member," Whitaker wrote.
U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle has not yet ruled on the motions.
Six other men were charged in connection with the homicide, including Cedric E. “Dirty” Burton, who was sentenced to five years in prison for driving Thomas from the murder. Police say Thomas went to Antonio Cook's house after the shooting and stayed there until the next day. Cook, who reportedly supplied the murder weapon, also has been charged.