State completes case in Fall Branch landlord kidnapping trial
Nov 25, 2014 at 7:33 PM
By the time all was said and done in a Jonesborough courtroom Tuesday, jurors will have a lot of conflicting information to consider when they begin deliberating robbery and kidnapping charges against a Kingsport woman.
Christina Thomas, 32, is on trial for especially aggravated robbery and especially aggravated kidnapping for an incident that occurred April 9, 2005, and involved her ex-husband, James Steven Thomas, and their landlord.
Jurors heard from the ex-husband and former landlord as testimony wrapped up just before lunch Tuesday following a day of evidence on Monday. Christina Thomas did not testify.
According to prosecutors, the incident left the couple’s former landlord, Donald Teague, 83, of Sullivan County, with severe injuries that ultimately resulted in brain bleeding that was discovered in January 2007.
Defense attorney Matt Bolton told the jury in closing arguments there was no evidence to tie the brain injury to the 2005 beating that he said was carried out solely by Steve Thomas.
That was mostly Steve Thomas’ story as well. He testified he didn’t know he was going to attack Teague that day and didn’t know what his wife knew.
Thomas said he was angry and wanted to confront Teague after his wife said Teague propositioned her. That’s a claim Teague later adamantly denied when he testified to wrap up the state’s case.
Steve Thomas testified he knew something was wrong with his wife for a couple of weeks before she told him Teague made sexual comments to her.
“I told her to call Mr. Teague to come to the house so I could confront him,” Thomas testified. He said Teague got hostile when he asked about the proposition.
“I hit him about twice and he went to the couch and I hit him again. That was it,” Steve Thomas testified.
It’s much different than the beating Teague described later. He said Christina Thomas wanted him to cash a check for $439 and change. He counted out the money on the couch, then put his wallet — which contained around $4,500 in cash and $900 in checks — in his pocket. That’s when the beating began.
“Bam, bam, bam, bam,” Teague testified. He said Steve Thomas had his knee in his back and held him with his left hand while he hit him with his right hand. He said Christina Thomas joined in her husband in the beating.
Steve Thomas told the jury that he is the one who took Teague’s wallet. But Teague testified Steve Thomas told Christina Thomas to help hold Teague and, “get his billfold.”
Teague, now 83 and hard of hearing, had a tendency to say things from the stand not proper for the jury to hear.
“I believe the amount of money probably saved my life,” he said, prompting Judge Robert Cupp to tell the jury to disregard the comment.
At another point in his testimony, under cross examination by defense attorney Matt Bolton, Teague blurted out, “she’s vicious.” It was another comment the judge told the jury to disregard.
“When they do what they did to me, I can’t help but say what they are,” Teague said.
When Bolton asked Teague something about Steve Thomas hitting with his fist, Teague was quick to disagree.
“Fist, my foot. It was a club of some kind. I don’t know what he hit me with, but it hurt,” Teague said.
Investigators took a claw hammer and small souvenir ball bat from the Thomases’ residence the day of the attack as possible items used to hit Teague.
Neither item was ever tested for blood, but had no visual blood on them.
Teague also testified he didn’t hear Christina Thomas say anything during the incident, but that he was too busy getting hit to pay attention to her.
After Teague’s testimony, Assistant District Attorney General Janet Vest Hardin rested the state’s case. Bolton made a motion for acquittal, asserting the state had not proven elements required for the charges.
Cupp denied the motion just prior to the lunch break, then Bolton rested the defense case without calling any witnesses.
Jurors heard part of the jury instruction before attorneys made their closing arguments. Both attorneys were concise in their summary of the case, but each contended different versions just as the evidence did.
On Monday, jurors heard from Christina Thomas’ 15-year-old daughter, who was 7 years old at the time of the April 2005 incident.
The girl testified her stepfather had told her and her two younger sisters to get into the car and stay there no matter what.
She said she saw Teague go into the trailer, then saw her mother and stepfather come out with blood on their hands. They got into the car and shared a needle to shoot up drugs before Steve Thomas drove away. During his testimony, Steve Thomas denied doing drugs when they got into the car because they didn’t have any.
The couple later dropped off the kids with a friend and borrowed a truck from another friend. In the evening, as they were reportedly returning that vehicle, Washington County sheriff’s deputies began a pursuit that ended with the Thomases getting away.
Ultimately the couple was arrested in Colorado a few weeks later and extradited back to Tennessee.
Steve Thomas pleaded guilty in November 2010 to aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping. He’s serving a 10-year and one day prison sentence.
Christina Thomas was slated to plead guilty to the same reduced charges that day as well, but Cupp refused to accept the plea after she hesitated when he asked if she was satisfied with what her attorney — Jim Beeler at the time — had done for her case.
She faces 15 to 25 years in prison if convicted. The jury is scheduled to return for deliberations today.