With a new prosecutor and two of the five defendants expected to testify for the state, the murder trial for those accused of killing the Rev. Blanchard Thomas in what has become known as the 2011 "Good Samaritan" case is to begin today in Muscogee Superior Court.
Thomas is the 44-year-old Pittsview, Ala., minister fatally shot March 8, 2011, after he gave a girl a ride here from Russell County, where she claimed she had been sexually assaulted.
When he dropped her off at a home north of Columbus' Booker T. Washington Apartments, her friends and family assumed Thomas was involved in her assault, so they got into his vehicle and forced him to drive to the dead end of Broadway, under the Oglethorpe Bridge, police said.
That's where passersby found Blanchard Thomas slumped in the vehicle around 4:20 p.m. that day. He had been shot in the right cheek.
Charged in his homicide are Jody Perry Jr., Michael Ingram, Keedra Brummitt, Donnie Forte and Joel Thomas Jr., who is not related to the victim. Each is charged with three counts of murder and one each of kidnapping, armed robbery, and using a firearm in a crime.
Ingram and Brummitt are to testify for the prosecution, authorities said.
Initially Chief Assistant Attorney Al Whitaker was the prosecutor assigned the case, but attorney Stacey Jackson, who represents Perry, discovered Whitaker worked as Perry's defense attorney in 2006, when Perry was accused of possessing drugs and obstructing police.
Though he was in private practice in 2006, Whitaker joined the district attorney's staff after District Attorney Julia Slater took office in 2009.
On June 10, the day the trial was to begin, Jackson moved to have Whitaker disqualified because of his apparent conflict of interest, and Judge William Rumer agreed.
With Whitaker disqualified, the case was assigned to Senior Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly, and Rumer rescheduled the trial to give Kelly time to prepare.
To preclude any appearance of a conflict, all of Whitaker's personal notes had to be removed from the case file, which was stored in a lavender-colored folder warning office staff that access to it was restricted, Slater said. Whitaker could not assist the new prosecutor, nor even discuss the case, she said.
The state's case
Before he was disqualified, Whitaker during a May 28 hearing summarized the prosecution's case, arguing it was not as complicated as defense attorneys claimed.
After giving the girl a ride, Thomas dropped her off at a relative's house, where she went inside while the minister sat in his sport-utility vehicle talking to her friends and family, Whitaker said.
Joel Thomas, Forte and Ingram got into Blanchard Thomas's SUV and made him drive them to Broadway, the prosecutor said.
He said Brummitt followed right behind the minister's vehicle with Perry in her car -- as evidenced by a nearby business' security camera video. The video showed the minister's SUV come down Sixth Street to Broadway, stop and turn south toward the Oglethorpe Bridge, he said.
Brummitt also came down Sixth Street and stopped at Broadway, but then waited until she heard gunshots, Whitaker said. Then she turned north on Broadway, he said. The gunshots were heard about 15 seconds after the minister's SUV turned south, the prosecutor said. Soon after the gunshots, the surveillance video recorded Forte running by, he said.
When arrested, Joel Thomas was 24, Ingram 60, Forte 53, Brummitt 22, and Perry 23.
Blanchard Thomas was the pastor of Pittview's Mt. Missouri Baptist Church.