Jury selected for Fall Branch landlord kidnapping trial

Becky Campbell • Jul 17, 2012 at 2:17 PM

A former Kingsport woman’s teenage daughter testified in a trial Monday about a 2005 incident when she saw her mom and stepfather exit their trailer with blood on them, then used the same needle to shoot up drugs before the family drove away that day.

The blood, prosecutors and investigators contend, was that of Christina Thomas’ landlord, Donald Teague.

Thomas, 32, is on trial for especially aggravated robbery and especially aggravated kidnapping. Investigators said she and her husband, James “Steve” Thomas, beat Teague up and stole money from him April 9, 2005.

Assistant District Attorney Janet Vest Hardin told a jury during opening statements that Teague was beaten, bound and gagged that day while the couple is accused of stealing the large amount of cash in his wallet. Investigators have said the couple lured Teague to the trailer in Fall Branch under the pretense of paying their rent.

Defense attorney Matt Bolton quizzed his client’s young daughter — who was 7 years old in 2005 — about her memory of what happened. She testified her stepfather said the family was going to Arkansas and later told her and her two younger sisters to get into the car and stay there.

Bolton asked the girl if her mother made any remarks about such a trip, but the girl said her mother agreed to go and made no attempt to disagree with Steve Thomas.

Bolton told jurors in his opening statements that his client was in an abusive relationship — something reinforced by the state’s second witness, Jennifer Cate. She met the Thomases when she married her husband, who was already friends with the pair.

Cate testified that the Thomases came to her house that day to buy a truck from her husband. They took the Nissan pickup for a 45-minute test drive, but were gone for several hours. Cate said she saw a report on what happened to Teague on the 11 p.m. news and that police were looking for the Thomases, supposedly driving a white car.

Cate said she called 911 to report the truck missing and to tell law enforcement that the Thomases were no longer driving the car. While officers were at Cate’s residence, the Thomas couple drove up in the truck, then fled again when they saw police.

Cate said the pickup was later found in a business parking lot in Gray and was littered with syringes, needles and razor blades.

On cross examination, Cate testified that Steve Thomas was abusive to his wife frequently.

Prosecutors also put on the stand Dr. Ken Smith, a neurological surgeon who removed a subdural hematoma from Teague’s brain. That brain bleed was found in January 2007, a few weeks after he was involved in a minor car crash.

Smith testified he didn’t know about the wreck until after he had removed the bleeding, but was aware of what happened to Teague in 2005. A CT scan Teague had after the 2005 attack at the VA Medical Center showed no signs of a bleed. But Smith said he went back and reviewed those records and — with the eyes of a neurological surgeon — disagreed with the initial finding and believes Teague’s brain had been bleeding slowly all along.

While Bolton hasn’t had an opportunity to get it in yet, he told jurors during opening statements that Teague had made sexual comments to his client and when she told her husband about it, he was furious.

“Mrs. Thomas had no idea Mr. Thomas was going to assault Mr. Teague the way he did,” Bolton said. After the assault was over, Christina Thomas “didn’t know what to do at this point except” to follow her husband’s orders to leave, Bolton said during openings.

Teague is expected to testify today as well as Steve Thomas. He pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and aggravated assault in November 2010. He was sentenced to 10 years and one day in prison.

Christina Thomas had also planned to plead guilty that day, but she hesitated when Judge Robert Cupp asked if her attorney, Jim Beeler at the time, had done everything he could for her. When Thomas said she had wanted to fight the charges, Cupp refused to continue with her guilty plea. Beeler later withdrew from the case and Bolton was appointed.

Thomas is free on bond while her case is pending. If convicted as charged, she faces 15 to 25 years in prison.

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