Kenneth Thomas murder case heads to jury

Attorneys planned to present closing arguments today

Posted: Thursday, December 14, 2000

Jury deliberations in the murder trial of Ronald Smith and Rey Joel Soto were expected to begin this afternoon following two hours of closing arguments at midday.

Superior Court Judge Larry Weeks read jurors their instructions this morning, noting they must decide if either man or both "used or threatened force" or "caused or attempted to cause serious injury" to Kenneth Thomas, who died as the result of a beating Jan. 25 near his home on Village Street, and to Alfred Torres, who suffered a dislocated shoulder and scalp wounds that required stitches.

Smith and Soto are charged with second-degree murder in the death of Thomas, 36; with first-degree assault in the beating of Torres, 27; and with second-degree robbery. With the exception of Soto, 21, all have police records. Smith, 34, has prior convictions in New York state for grand larceny, burglary and attempted burglary.

Weeks told jurors that if they found robbery was committed or found the defendants had a firearm with them on Jan. 25, they could not accept pleas of self-defense.

Testimony about a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun with pistol grips has been given half a dozen times since the trial began Dec. 4. Defense attorney Darrel Gardner said the state is ineffectually trying to build a bridge from a found gun to a robbery backed up with a gun, a robbery his client, Smith, claims never took place.

Torres testified he was in a trailer on Village Street about 4 a.m. Jan. 25 when he "saw a guy coming in with a shotgun pointing straight to my head." Mark Paddock, who was with Torres and Thomas, testified that "the guy with the shotgun looked in the back of the trailer, then went back outside."

Jay Epstein, loss prevention manager at Fred Meyer, testified that Zachary Brown bought a Mossberg there Jan. 20. Kyle Nalan testified he was sleeping at Brown's place when Smith and Soto came in and asked to borrow the gun.

Caroline Gerken, 22, former girlfriend of Brown, testified Wednesday that Brown told her Smith and Soto had asked to borrow the gun, saying "they would bring it back in five minutes."

Brown's attorney, David Mallet, told police officer David Wrightson where to find his gun, which has been entered into evidence by the state. However, it was not linked to DNA evidence in the case.

Defense lawyers Gardner and Michael O'Brien planned to give closing arguments of half an hour each, and assistant attorney general Sue McLean planned to use an hour.

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