One of the suspects charged in the fatal shooting of the Rev. Blanchard Thomas described Thursday the anger that welled up March 8, 2011, when Thomas brought home an alleged rape victim whose family wanted to hunt down the man they believed had assaulted her.
Keedra Brummitt that day was among anxious friends and family awaiting the 19-year-old woman’s arrival at their grandparents’ home on Sixth Street in Columbus. The teen had called that morning to say she was being kidnapped. The minister had found her in Seale, Ala., and offered to give her a ride back to Columbus.
The man who allegedly had assaulted her was nicknamed “New York,” and Brummitt’s family had been looking for him, with one contingent searching at a Cusseta Road trailer park and in the Smiths Station, Ala., area.
When Thomas arrived with the young woman in his Ford Expedition, the girl went into her grandparents’ house to say she had been raped. Outside, Thomas’ SUV was surrounded.
Testifying in the murder trial of Donnie Forte, the only defendant who has not agreed to plead guilty, Brummitt recalled walking outside and seeing Forte and others shouting at the minister.
“That’s all you heard was yelling, them yelling at Mr. Thomas,” she said. Asked if she could recall distinct words, she said they yelled, “Where is New York?”
Thomas did not yell back, she said.
At the time, the man known as “New York” was dating Thomas’ sister. The men surrounding the minister ordered him to take them to find New York. Forte got in the front passenger seat of Thomas’ Ford. Michael Ingram, a neighbor who was close to Brummitt’s grandparents, got in the back seat behind Forte, and Joel Thomas, Brummitt’s cousin who’s not related to the minister, got in the seat behind Blanchard Thomas, Brummitt said.
Brummitt and her brother Jody Perry got into her white Buick Regal and followed the gray SUV as it traveled from Sixth Street over to Eighth Street, west to First Avenue, then south to Fourth Street and west to Broadway, she said.
At a stop sign, Ingram and Joel Thomas got out of the Expedition and got into Brummitt’s car, leaving only Forte in the minister’s vehicle, she said.
On Fourth Street they passed a business named Indoor Solutions, which has security cameras. In the background of that surveillance video, the two vehicles can been seen passing by. The video was shown to the jury as Brummitt testified.
The Expedition came to Fourth Street and Broadway and turned south, traveling under the Oglethorpe Bridge and parking in a diagonal space facing Columbus’ Golden Park. Brummitt said her car remained on Fourth Street at Broadway.
Her brother leaned out to see where the Expedition went, and then Brummitt turned north on Broadway. She heard a gunshot, and stopped. Keep going, her passengers told her. She looked back and saw Forte running from the Expedition, she said.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Don Kelly again played the Indoor Solutions security camera recording, pointing out a distant figure running east on Fourth Street. Brummitt said that was Forte running away.
He was moving so fast that he frightened an Indoor Solutions worker returning in a truck. The worker testified he didn’t get a good look at the runner’s face because he was too focused on locking his truck doors and cranking its windows shut.
“The way he was running, I knew he was running from something,” the worker said. “It kind of freaked me out.” He feared the man would try to hijack his truck.
He told his boss the next day, when he heard about the homicide, he said. They reviewed the security recordings and notified police.
March 8, 2011, was a Tuesday. That afternoon, two men parking by Golden Park to stroll the Chattahoochee Riverwalk noticed a man slumped over the steering wheel of a Ford Expedition. Seeing blood, they called 911.
Paramedics and police found Blanchard Thomas dead from a bullet hole in his right cheek. He was still wearing his seat belt. He had $260 in his wallet. The empty casing from a .380-caliber bullet lay on the dashboard, near the passenger’s side.
The young woman the minister rescued had been rushed to the hospital when she told relatives she had been raped. When she returned to her parents’ home that evening, homicide Detective Amanda Hogan was there.
Testifying Thursday, Hogan said the teen was grateful for how Blanchard Thomas had helped her: “She repeatedly stated Mr. Thomas had saved her life,” Hogan said.
But he had lost his own.
Police at first charged everyone implicated in the homicide: Brummitt, Perry, Joel Thomas, Ingram and Forte. But others made deals with prosecutors, and pointed to Forte as the triggerman.
Forte’s defense attorney, Rick Samper, maintains Forte is a convenient scapegoat because he is not related to the other defendants, nor a close family friend like Ingram.
Attorneys finished presenting evidence Thursday. They are to make closing statements Friday morning at 9 before Superior Court Judge William Rumer.