Murder weapon under scrutiny

Witness describes incident that killed Kenneth Thomas

Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2000

An expert from the state crime lab today pointed out the blood stains she found on a wooden softball bat police have said was removed from the car driven by one of the two men charged in the Jan. 25 beating death of Kenneth Thomas.

"You can see there is still some blood present," Kristin Denning of the state crime lab in Anchorage testified during in the fourth day of the murder trial of Ron Smith, 34, and Rey Joel Soto, 21.

Several police officers have testified they found a bloody bat on the back floor of the car Smith was driving when he and Soto were arrested about 5 a.m., not long after the assault.

Denning testified she did not analyze all the blood stains on the bat because she was asked by another forensics expert to "avoid areas with latent fingerprints." Whose fingerprints are on the bat has not yet been revealed to the jury and assembled relatives of both the defendants and the deceased attending the trial.

Smith and Soto are charged with second-degree murder in the death of Thomas, who died a day after suffering a beating near his trailer home on Village Street. They are charged with felony murder because the state alleges the killing occurred during the commission of a robbery. They also are charged with first-degree assault in the beating of Alfred Torres, the murder victim's brother, as well as second-degree robbery.

Thomas apparently suffered many blows Jan. 25, but the blow that killed him was a depressed skull fracture.

The first witness this morning, Dr. John Huttenlocher, an emergency medicine specialist with Bartlett Regional Hospital, described the skull fracture as a "devastating head injury" from which he did not expect Thomas to recover, although he did have him medevaced to Anchorage for surgical consultation.

The fracture to the back of the skull came at a spot Huttenlocher called "the strictly strongest part of the head, designed to protect us from blows; and to break that part of the skull requires a tremendous amount of kinetic energy. To separate that part of the skull so that it becomes loose implies that a great deal of force was applied."

On Wednesday, David Wrightson Jr., a Juneau police officer, testified he had interviewed Stephanie Sanders, one of the witnesses to the crime. Sanders, 17, told him "the black person had the shotgun, and later on had the bat and was hitting Alfred with it inside the trailer," Wrightson said.

Smith is black. The Alfred referred to was Alfred Torres, Thomas' brother.

Darrel Gardner, Smith's defense attorney, told jurors in his opening statement on Tuesday that the baseball bat was first seen at the scene in the hands of Torres. Gardner said Smith got the bat away from Smith and "tossed it."

The defense contends the violence resulted from a drug deal gone bad but that neither of the defendants used the bat nor a shotgun to attack Thomas or Torres.

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