After finding Xavier Thomas guilty of first-degree murder and other crimes stemming from a 2011 shooting incident on the west side of Pine Bluff, a jury of six men and six women deliberated about an hour Thursday afternoon before deciding on his sentence.
Thomas had been accused of shooting Henry Paul Fells Jr., 23, who died at Jefferson Regional Medical Center, and Tristan Hunter, then 18, who survived despite being shot five times. Thomas had pleaded not guilty.
The jury recommended that Thomas be sentenced to 30 years in prison on one count of first-degree murder, 10 years on one count of attempted first-degree murder and two years each on two counts of using a firearm during the commission of the murder and attempted murder, and Circuit Judge Jodi Raines Dennis went along with that recommendation, as well as a recommendation that the sentences run consecutively, or one after the other.
Thomas, who had a prior conviction for residential burglary and theft of property in 2009, will have to serve 70 percent of the 30-year sentence, plus 70 percent of the first two-year sentence, then half of the remaining sentences less good time before being eligible to apply for parole.
Testifying Thursday morning, Hunter was asked by Deputy Prosecutor Jill Reed if the person who shot him and Fells was in the courtroom. After Hunter said “yes,” Reed asked him to “point him out.”
After Hunter pointed to Thomas, who was sitting at the defense table, Reed asked, “How certain are you that the defendant is the one that shot you?”
“One thousand percent,” Hunter said.
Hunter said on cross-examination that on the day of the shooting, Oct. 25, 2011, he had been drinking, had smoked marijuana and drank codeine, and described himself as a “little intoxicated, a little high.
“I wasn’t sloppy though,” Hunter said, “just a little tipsy.”
Following up on that line of questioning, defense attorney Efrem Neely said, “you’re not sure who shot you, are you?” to which Hunter quickly replied, “I know who shot me.”
A few minutes later, Hunter said “I don’t know why he (Thomas) started shooting. It just came out of the blue. I thought they (Fells and Thomas) were cool. They talked about being locked up together.”
Prosecutors said Fells and Hunter were shot as they walked away from the area of the Sunset Village Apartments at 2611 W. 34th Ave., and both men were found at a duplex in the 3300 block of Palm Street after police responded to a reported prowler call. Thomas allegedly walked behind Fells and Hunter, and according to Hunter, “pulled out a handgun and started shooting.”
Fells was found at the front door of one of the duplexes and Hunter in the front yard, and Hunter was able to give police a description of the person he said shot him, a light-skinned black male, 5 feet, 8 inches to 5 feet, 9 inches tall, with tattoos on both arms and big teeth.
He also told police that the cell phone number of the person who shot them was in Fells’ phone. Thursday morning, Detective Jacqueline Stevenson testified that a cell phone recovered from Fells’ body had five missed calls from a phone that Thomas was using, according to Thomas’ sister, who said she gave Thomas the phone.
Detectives showed Hunter more than 60 mugshots of possible suspects before he identified Thomas, who was arrested in December, a fact that Reed talked about during the trial.
“He looked at all those pictures and said ‘that ain’t him’ and ‘that ain’t him’ until he was shown the photo lineup with Thomas’ picture in it and said it was ‘like looking at his face.’”
Thomas did not testify in his own defense, despite earlier indications Thursday that he would.
Thomas’ former girlfriend, Lanette Terry, testified that Thomas had been with her from early afternoon on the day of the shooting until the early-morning hours of the next day.
Terry was interviewed by prosecutors in May 2012, almost seven months after the shooting, and said Thomas had come to her house between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Oct. 25 and left between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Oct. 26.
In her initial statement, she said that occurred Oct. 26, then later changed it to Oct. 25, the day of the shooting.
Terry said she and Thomas had moved in together on Oct. 26 and lived together until he was arrested in December.
“Five months after he was arrested and you didn’t tell detectives that he was with you and he was innocent?” Reed asked Terry, who didn’t reply.
Reed, who represented the state along with Chief Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Juneau, said after the sentencing that “Hunter gave a description of the defendant even when he didn’t know his name and said the phone number of the person that shot him would be in Fells’ phone.”
Reed said that when Thomas was arrested, “he met the description Hunter gave immediately following the shooting, and the defendant’s phone number was in Fells’ phone five times just as Hunter said it would be. We believed him and it was obvious that the jury did, too.”