Army vet who shot girlfriend found not guilty by reason of insanity

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by GARY L. WRIGHT / The Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on November 30, 2012 at 11:47 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Davon Lamont Thomas, an Iraq War veteran who was charged with killing his girlfriend in 2009, has been found not guilty by reason of insanity after he was diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Thomas, 30, will be committed to a state mental hospital.

Thomas was charged with murder in connection with the November 2009 killing of his 23-year-old girlfriend, Tigist Yemane.

Yemane, who originally came to Charlotte from Ethiopia for an operation to fix a heart defect, was shot to death in Thomas’ parents’ house in the Reedy Creek community.

Thomas in September 2011 pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

His lawyer, Jean Lawson, said the Army veteran had post-traumatic stress disorder and killed his girlfriend because he thought she was part of a terrorist attack on America.

“Davon Thomas volunteered to serve in the North Carolina Army National Guard, was deployed to active combat duty in Iraq and developed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Lawson wrote in a court document.

“At the time of the offense, Davon Thomas was in a delusional state and believed that a terrorist attack on the people of the United States of America had commenced and that the deceased was a member of a hostile military force whom he was obliged to kill.”

Lawson called post-traumatic stress disorder a mental illness. “The defense contends that Davon Thomas did not have the requisite mental state for the offenses charged,” the defense lawyer wrote.

Prosecutors announced Friday that Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson had issued an order finding Thomas not guilty by reason of insanity of first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon. The judge ordered that Thomas be indefinitely committed to a state mental hospital.

Prosecutors said that forensic psychologists for both the defense and prosecution testified during a hearing in October that Thomas suffered from severe mental illness and lacked the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions.

“The State does not intend to appeal the Court’s ruling and believes it is supported by all the evidence presented at the hearing,” prosecutors said.

Thomas’ mother told the Observer in 2011 that she saw her son fatally shoot Yemane.

“That was the most horrifying thing I ever witnessed in my life,” she said. “I prayed to get those visions out of my head.”

Prosecutors said the state’s forensic psychologist, Dr. Nicole Wolfe, evaluated Thomas over a four-week period. The evaluation included reviewing Thomas’ military and medical records.

Wolfe testified that Thomas has a baseline paranoia that continued from the time of his active duty in the Army and since his return home from Iraq in 2005.

“The defendant believes American Muslims are going to launch a mass attack within the United States,” prosecutors said. “The Fort Hood attack played a role in his thoughts of the United States’ infiltration by American Muslims.

“Dr. Wolfe further testified that the defendant was delusional and believed that his girlfriend, the victim, was a terrorist who planned to kill him.”

Prosecutors said Thomas’ parents witnessed the killing and described their son’s bizarre behavior.

“The defendant’s mother said he was in a combat-like posture, and she described his behavior as acting as if he was in a war zone,” prosecutors said. “She and her husband witnessed the defendant hit the victim in the face with his hand, hit her in the head with a gun and throw a table at her while interrogating her about being a spy and a Muslim. They tried to restrain the defendant, but he broke away and shot the victim.

“After the defendant’s father fainted and collapsed to the floor, the defendant’s mother ran to a neighbor’s house to call the police.”

Prosecutors said Judge Levinson found that there was “clear, cogent and convincing” evidence that Thomas was suffering from delusions and paranoia caused by his severe mental illnesses which caused him to be unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions at the time of the killing.

Prosecutors said the judge’s ruling requires them to dismiss the charges against Thomas and that Thomas be automatically committed to a state hospital for the mentally ill.

Thomas will remain in custody and cannot be released, prosecutors said, unless he can prove at a court hearing that he no longer has a mental illness or is no longer dangerous to others.

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