Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Husband who hired hitman to kill wife gets life without parole in Philly courtroom

A Jamaican national who had his nephew kill his estranged wife so he could have a better chance of escaping drug charges was sentenced to life without parole Friday for her murder. 46 year old Corbin Thomas was sentenced to mandatory life without parole after a Philadelphia jury convicted him of 1st degree murder of his wife, Hope Thomas. Common Pleas Court Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi presided over the trial and jury, which only took 40 minutes to deliver a guilty verdict.

Prosecutors said Thomas ordered hit hit on his wife to prevent her from testifying against him about his marijuana distribution operation, an operation which led to drug and money laundering convictions and a 35 year federal prison sentence.

On the night of Nov. 14, 1995, a gunman in a Wolfman mask accosted Hope Thomas and Danielle as the woman unlocked the door to their Cedarbrook rowhouse. The girl was tied up and left in a bedroom. Hope Thomas was led to a basement shower stall and shot in the head.

Corbin Thomas was initially suspected because the Thomases were separated, a divorce was all but final, and Hope Thomas had a protection-from-abuse order barring her husband from the house.

But the masked gunman escaped, and no physical evidence linked Corbin Thomas to scene. Police questioned and released Thomas. Four months later, he fled to Jamaica, and later to London.

He was arrested in London in 2002 and was also indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of operating a multimillion drug ring. But British authorities would not extradite him to the United States unless Philadelphia officials agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Hope's mother, Donell Morgan and daughter, now 21 year old Danielle, endured the five day trial and cross examination from Thomas, who had represented himself in the proceedings. Danielle said that "It was very hard. It was as if he disrespected me. Because I felt that he was guilty all along and he still questioned me."

Morgan said that "This has been like living a nightmare. To see it end the way it has is such a release...We always knew that he was the one who killed my daughter."

A key witness against him was Gary St. Louis Gordon, his right-hand man in the drug ring, who testified that Thomas offered him $10,000 to hire someone to kill his wife.

When a first hit man took the money and ran, Thomas turned to his nephew to do the job, Gordon testified. The nephew, Winston "Titos" Thomas, is missing and believed to have been killed in Jamaica for drug activities.

Thomas plans to appeal, and Judge DeFino-Nastasi appointed Barbara A. McDermott to handle it.

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