SHOW LOW—John Russell Thomas, 27, the man who led police on a six-hour manhunt in June of last year is facing six felony counts and one misdemeanor charge for allegedly shooting his father and brother and assaulting his girlfriend in the early hours of June 5, 2019, in the 1000 block of Deer Park Drive in Show Low.
According to Show Low Police, Thomas shot the two men when they tried to intervene while Thomas was allegedly trying to strangle his girlfriend, Maria Rosalez, during a domestic dispute in a trailer next to a residence at 3:46 a.m. The two gunshot victims were flown to the Phoenix area for treatment, and have recovered.
On June 11 last year, a grand jury handed up its indictment charging two counts of attempted second degree murder, Class 2 felonies, two counts of aggravated assault, Class 3 felonies, one count of domestic violence aggravated assault, a Class 4 felony, one count of tampering with evidence, a Class 6 Felony, and one count of preventing the use of a telephone in an emergency, a Class 2 misdemeanor.
Thomas appeared for a case management conference last week in the Navajo County Superior Court. His attorney is Criss Candelaria, formerly the county attorney in Apache County. Thomas was among “the chain,” five men and one woman who were brought over from the jail and seated in the jury box, handcuffed. They were given cardboard masks to wear, printed with the Arizona flag. Thomas’ father and brother were also present. The state is represented by deputy county attorney Patrick Zincola, who sat at the prosecutor’s table. Judge Ralph Hatch presided. Throughout the proceeding some of the men and the woman in custody giggled together about something.
The purpose of the conference was to let the judge know where the case stands at the moment. Candelaria told the court that the defense is involuntary intoxication, that someone spiked Thomas’ drink which caused him to act in a manner that he usually wouldn’t. The attorney told Hatch that two witnesses have come forward to say that they think they know who spiked Thomas’ drink. Contacting that alleged drink-spiker would be an obvious step in the investigation; but that person is deceased, “six feet under,” said Candelaria—a victim of an alleged homicide earlier this year in Show Low.
The parties are still waiting for the toxicology results from a test performed on Thomas. The defense wants the court to preserve a piece of carpet that the defense says may contain a spilled drink that if analyzed, could show traces of the substance that they claim was slipped to Thomas before the shooting. The carpet is believed to still be at the residence at which the shooting allegedly took place, and the defense wants it preserved, or at least a portion of it preserved.
Prosecutor Zincola didn’t agree with that, but didn’t oppose it either, taking “no position.” The judge wants to hear from the owner, the landlord, to see what he or she thinks of the idea, although the defense says that the judge could order that it be preserved for analysis. Candelaria suggested that the economic loss to the landlord couldn’t be much, because the carpet is “probably not worth the powder to blow it to kingdom come,” he said.
Zincola mumbled something about the residence possibly having been been a “drug house,” and any forensic examination of the furnishings would probably show drug residue. He also inquired what the two unidentified witnesses could contribute to the defense, considering the prohibition in the court rules about hearsay. Did the alleged spiker tell the witnesses that he spiked a drink? As stated, the alleged spiker is deceased, so he won’t be testifying.
Another evidentiary hurdle regards “prior bad act” or character evidence which is not favored in the law and highly limited. It seems that the two witnesses would say that the spiker had said that he had spiked people’s drinks before. That kind of testimony is generally not reliable—not only is it hearsay, what a witness says someone else said, it’s a stretch to ask the jury to assume that if the alleged spiker had done it before, he certainly could have done it in Thomas’ case.
Regarding the hearsay issue, Candelaria gave notice that he intends to use the “catch all” exception to the hearsay rule to allow the jury to hear what the witnesses say the deceased alleged spiker said—the prosecutor wasn’t so sure the defense would succeed in that.
In the end, the court set a hearing on the carpet issue for July 2 and the defense said they would subpoena the landlord. With regard to the other pre-trial issues like hearsay and prior bad act evidence (the prosecutor filed six motions in all) Hatch will hear and decide those issues on August 26.