Evidence hearing put off in Thomas case

Posted: Sunday, February 06, 2000

Those gathering to hear evidence in Juneau's first murder case in nearly a decade were forced to wait a little longer Friday.

About 20 people quietly gathered outside a courtroom during the afternoon waiting to attend the preliminary hearing of two men charged with the beating death of Kenneth Thomas, 36. A few minutes after 3 p.m. scheduled time, a court official told the assembled group the hearing was canceled. Assistant District Attorney Sue McLean said further action is expected on the case Monday.

Thomas sustained serious head injuries during a Jan. 25 armed robbery, which led to his death early the following morning. After he died, police charged Ronald Edward Smith, 33, and Rey Joel Soto, 20, with second-degree murder, first-degree robbery and first-degree assault. The assault charge stems from the fact that Alfred Torres was also injured in the incident.

Two masked intruders knocked on the door of Torres' residence around 4:20 a.m. Jan. 25, court records show. Torres answered the door and was pulled outside. Thomas followed him out. Both were beaten and Thomas fell to the ground, vomiting.

A witness, Mark Paddock, said shortly thereafter Torres re-entered his Willoughby Avenue trailer, followed by the assailants. One was carrying a shotgun. The other was carrying a bloody baseball bat. They demanded money and marijuana.

From the beatings received at the hands of their assailants, Torres suffered injuries to his face, lacerations on the back of his head and a dislocated, torn shoulder. Thomas never regained consciousness. He was flown to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage, where he was placed on life-support systems and later died.

Soto's mother, Amalia Lopez Santiago, stated in a written message to the Empire earlier this week she is concerned about the safety of her son and other family members. Santiago, a former employee of the Juneau post office, said members of her family in Juneau are being threatened.

``(I) would like to express my sincere respect to the family of Kenneth Thomas for their loss,'' Santiago wrote.

``I am so, so sorry for what happened. My son comes from a good family,'' she continued. ``Why did he do this, God only knows. But due to the anger of the (Thomas) family, which I understand, I would like to ask for patience until this situation is resolved.''

She added, ``I do not know exactly what happened.''

``The only thing I asked (is that) the (Thomas) family not to hurt my family. I do understand their grief but I think that more violence will not help any of our families... Let's pray to get the comfort that us and our families need,'' Santiago concluded.

Edwin Soto, a relative living in Juneau, did not wish to comment about the alleged threats.

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