Four days after a jury found Donnie Forte guilty in the 2011 “Good Samaritan” murder of the Rev. Blanchard Thomas, the remaining suspects pleaded guilty Tuesday.
Initially five were charged in Thomas’ fatal shooting on March 8, 2011, the day the minister rescued a distraught 19-year-old woman who said she had been kidnapped and raped. When he brought her to her grandparents’ home at 511 Sixth St. in Columbus, her outraged friends and family turned on him, forcing him to drive to the dead end of Broadway under the Oglethorpe Bridge, where passersby later found him dead from a gunshot wound to his check.
Last week a jury convicted the triggerman, Donnie Forte, whom witnesses said was the last suspect with Thomas, the others having exited the minister’s Ford Expedition before the shooting.
Superior Court Judge William Rumer sentenced Forte to life in prison Friday.
Those pleading guilty today were Keedra Brummitt, Michael Ingram and Joel Thomas Jr., who is not related to the victim.
According to court records, each pleaded guilty Tuesday to a reduced charge of false imprisonment based on the more serious offense of kidnapping, which was among their initial charges.
Rumer sentenced Thomas and Ingram each to 10 years, with Thomas to serve 958 days and Ingram to serve 956 days. He sentenced Brummitt to five years in prison with 474 days to serve.
A fifth suspect pleaded guilty before Forte’s trial began last week. He was Jody Perry, Brummitt’s brother and Joel Thomas’ cousin. After Perry pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, Rumer sentenced him to 20 years in prison with seven to serve.
So Forte, 55, was the only defendant to go to trial. The jury Friday found him guilty not only of murder, but kidnapping with bodily harm, using a firearm to commit a crime and possessing a drug-related object, a crack pipe he had when police arrested him the day after he killed Blanchard Thomas.
Besides his sentence of life without parole, to be served concurrently for murder, kidnapping and having a crack pipe, Forte got five years on the firearms charge, to be served consecutively.
In summing up the case, Senior District Attorney Don Kelly retraced the journey that led to Blanchard Thomas’ murder.
The minister’s sister was dating a man known by the nickname “New York,” a drug user who regularly took his girlfriend’s truck and rented it out for drugs. His dealer was the young woman he allegedly kidnapped.
On the night of March 7, 2011, he took the truck and loaned it to the 19-year-old, then called her early the next morning for a ride. Around 7 a.m., the woman called a friend and said New York would not let her out of the truck. The friend passed that on to her family, sparking a storm of anger.
Meanwhile, Thomas’ sister was trying to find her vehicle. New York told her the truck was in Seale, Ala., where his mother lived.
The sister, Shendora Thomas, got her brother to drive her to Seale to find her truck. They found New York there at his mother’s house. While they were there, the visibly shaken young woman walked up, holding Shendora Thomas’ keys. She told the Thomases she would take them to the truck. On the way, she told them New York raped her.
When they got to the truck, it would not start. Shendora Thomas decided to wait for a tow truck. Blanchard Thomas offered to give the young woman a ride home.
Around 2:30 p.m., the minister pulled up at her grandparents’ house, where Thomas was surrounded by men yelling, “Where’s New York?”
Forte, a neighbor to the young woman’s family, got into the front passenger’s seat beside Thomas. Ingram, another neighbor, got into the back seat behind Forte. Joel Thomas got in the back seat behind Blanchard Thomas. They told him to take them to find New York. “It’s going to be you or him,” Forte told the minister.
Perry and Brummitt followed the minister’s SUV in Brummitt’s Buick Regal as it went west to Broadway. At a stop sign along the route, Joel Thomas and Ingram got out of the SUV and into Brummitt’s car, leaving only Forte with the minister.
On Fourth Street at Broadway, Brummitt stopped and waited while the SUV turned south on Broadway, went under the bridge and parked.
Brummitt turned north on Broadway and heard a gunshot. She stopped, but her passengers told her to drive on. Looking back, she saw Forte leave the SUV and run east on Fourth Street, she testified.