SOMERSET, Pa. — Suspended Somerset County District Attorney Jeffrey Thomas was found guilty on Thursday of six out of the nine charges against him — but not the most serious sex charges.
After a trial that lasted seven days, a jury of 12 Somerset County residents needed less than three hours to reach the verdict.
The jury found Thomas, 37, guilty of two felonies — strangulation with sexual violence and criminal trespass — as well as counts of unlawful restraint, indecent assault, false imprisonment and one simple assault count related to allegations that he struck the Windber woman. It found him not guilty of sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault and a second simple assault count.
Thomas sat still until jurors finished delivering the verdict on all nine counts. He leaned forward, removed his glasses and wiped his eyes as each juror stood and verified the verdict. Thomas’ accuser sat almost motionless for several minutes, then stood to embrace friends.
Within minutes, Cambria County Senior Judge Timothy Creany, who presided over the trial, revoked Thomas’ bond. Sheriff’s deputies put Thomas in handcuffs and escorted him from the Somerset County Courthouse to Somerset County Jail. He will be required to undergo a state sex offender assessment to comply with Megan’s Law.
His sentencing is scheduled for May 16.
The verdict came 18 months after Thomas’ arrest in what quickly became a high-profile case involving the county’s top law enforcement officer. Still, Senior Deputy Attorney General Patrick Schulte said the case had even bigger meaning.
“This case wasn’t about Jeffrey Thomas,” Schulte said. “This was about a girl who had the strength to walk into a police station hoping that someone would believe her, and this jury believed her.”
The verdict indicated that jurors determined that prosecutors did not prove two other allegations beyond a reasonable doubt — penetration and biting — but Schulte and fellow Senior Deputy Attorney General Tomm Mutschler said their office and Thomas’ accuser were not discouraged.
“What she wanted ... was to be believed,” Schulte said. “And these charges call for a state prison sentence, and that’s where Jeff Thomas belongs.”
Defense attorneys Ryan Tutera and Eric Jackson Lurie sought to have Thomas remain free on bond, but were unsuccessful.
Tutera said he and Lurie were pleased that Thomas was acquitted of the most serious charges against him, including sexual assault, but he said they disagreed with the jury’s decision as a whole. He indicated that he and Lurie plan to pursue appeals after they prepare their arguments for sentencing.
“I don’t think the jury fully considered our arguments,” Tutera said, “but this fight isn’t over.”
Thomas was accused of entering his accuser’s Windber home in September 2021, sexually assaulting her and inflicting physical harm — striking and strangling her — during the act, according to state police.
The woman spent parts of four days on the stand during the trial, recounting each step of her memory about what happened that night.
Prosecutors pointed to evidence that showed that Thomas’ DNA was found inside the waistband of the woman’s shorts and that his cellphone was near her residence at the time of the encounter.
Schulte told jurors that the woman had the courage to step forward and submit herself to difficult situations in order to press charges. She allowed injuries to private areas to be photographed by state police. She agreed to face Thomas during wiretapped conversations, then testified about being sexually assaulted in court.
“Are these the actions of a liar?” Schulte said.
Thomas exercised his Fifth Amendment rights and did not testify during the trial. His defense counsel used other ways to challenge the case.
They called on a woman who lived on the other side of the accuser’s duplex, who said she didn’t hear anything that night.
Well-known forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht said the injuries described in police reports didn’t match what he saw in photographs of the accuser — a finding that prosecutors disputed, using their own expert.
Thomas’ wife, Amy Thomas, said she confronted the accuser twice about a possible affair between Jeffrey Thomas and the accuser.
“Does it stand to reason ... that someone would send kissy faces to (a person) that disgusted them?” Tutera told jurors during his closing argument, arguing that someone wouldn’t talk about “rough sex” with someone they wanted to be left alone by.
After the photographic evidence was questioned, Schulte told jurors to remember that state troopers and Windber’s police chief personally viewed the accuser’s injuries.
And he told them to remember the audio recordings of the court-approved wiretap conversation between Thomas and his accuser that were played last week. The recording included moments in which Thomas, unaware he was being recorded, apologized several times and promised the woman that he’d never bother her again.
“This (conviction) took somebody off the street that hurt somebody,” Schulte said.
In a statement after the verdict, Attorney General Michelle Henry called Thomas’ crime “absolutely abhorrent” — and even more so because it was perpetuated by a public official who was elected to protect citizens from such crimes.
“We commend the jurors for their attention to hearing what was a living nightmare for the victim,” Henry said. “We are hopeful this verdict offers her a measure of justice and that the upcoming sentence removes Mr. Thomas’ threat to public safety.”
Creany said the sex offender assessment will be conducted on Thomas prior to his sentencing.
Tutera took issue with a slide that prosecutors used in their closing summary, criticizing the defense’s arguments in a way that Tutera said “shifted the burden” to the defense.
Creany also expressed concern, reminding jurors immediately afterward that prosecutors have the burden of proving their case before someone can be found guilty. But Tutera, who tried to argue for a mistrial, suggested that the issue remains grounds for an appeal.
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