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Slow paperwork allowed Richmond murder suspect to walk free

Posted: 10:39 PM, Jan 27, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-27 23:18:19-05
Slow paperwork allowed Richmond murder suspect to walk free

RICHMOND, Va. -- Deon Thomas walked away from the Richmond Justice Center last Thursday because there wasn't a court order to hold him.

He had been indicted by a multi-jurisdictional grand jury a few days prior, but that paperwork was stuck somewhere in the justice pipeline.

Steel fencing and cameras every 20 or 30 feet surround what used to be the Midlothian Village Apartments. The south side apartment complex has undergone major changes in recent months, trying to shake the stigma of being a dangerous place to live.

Deon Thomas

"The cameras are always on and the lights are bright at night to where you can see everything,” said Joyce Reeder. “I love it."

Big changes were necessary, said current residents.

"Oh lord, it was terrible," said Reeder. "I'd go in there to see my friend and there'd be a shootout in the parking lot."

It's a complex where the US Marshal Fugitive Task Force and Richmond Police officers were able to track down the 19-year-old Thomas Sunday night after he was released from the city jail Thursday.

Crime insider sources say he was there, visiting a friend.

"We let people out all of the time because there's a presumption of innocence and you can't lose sight of that,” said legal expert Ed Riley. “There are statutes with respect to bond that there's an inference of flight risk or danger, but still that presumption can't be taken away until a judge or jury does so."

Thomas was charged with the December robbery of a convenience store off Midlothian Turnpike.

But the charge was recently set aside as prosecutors were able to secure a murder indictment from a grand jury for the killing of store clerk Ashref Mahasees.

Ashraf Mahasees

A problem arose when jail workers did not have the indictment paperwork in hand Thursday, which left them with no choice but to tell Thomas that he was free to leave.

"Somebody instead of doing the paperwork at 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, pushed it back to 4:30 or 5 for whatever reason, which delayed it for a day or so,” said Riley. “There's no mistake here, the timing of the paperwork was just misjudged."

Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Learned Barry said this was a case where the general district paperwork moved faster than the circuit courts. They are now implementing procedures to make sure it doesn't happen again.