WILKES-BARRE — After nearly eight hours of deliberations, a jury decided Friday that Tevon “Mulah” Thomas will spend the rest of his life in prison for murder.
Thomas, 25, Wilkes-Barre, was convicted of first-degree homicide and conspiracy to commit homicide. Prosecutors say he’s responsible for the shooting death of Irvando “Yardie” Crooks on Sept. 2, 2016.
Jurors got the case at around 12:30 p.m. and deliberated until nearly 8 p.m.
After the verdict was read, Thomas’ mother began shouting in the hallway that the court was “racist,” while his brother accused the media of setting up Thomas.
Defense attorney Joseph Price expressed disappointment with the verdict, but said he will continue to fight the case.
Assistant District Attorney Tony Ross, meanwhile, said prosecutors were pleased and congratulated investigators for putting together a difficult case.
“Justice was done today,” Ross said.
Thomas faces a mandatory life term when sentenced Feb. 15. For now, he’s locked up at the Luzerne County Prison.
‘Quagmire of inconsistencies’
In his closing argument, Price reminded jurors of the multiple inconsistencies in testimony from prosecution witnesses that emerged over the four-day trial.
“It’s going to be tough to wade through what could best be described as a quagmire of inconsistencies,” Price said. “Not one (of the prosecution’s witnesses) has the same story. Not one.”
In fact, Price argued that some of the prosecution’s key witnesses disproved major parts of the case.
On Thursday, State Trooper James Shubzda testified about a single bullet mark on the kitchen floor of a home at 70 N. Sherman St. in Wilkes-Barre, where Crooks was shot.
Based on Shubzda’s testimony about the trajectory of the bullet when it hit the ground, Price said the jury had to come to the conclusion that shot simply could not have been fired by Thomas. He just wasn’t at the right angle, Price said.
“I think you can conclude the bullet from Mr. Thomas’ gun never hit Mr. Crooks,” Price said.
He also attempted to plant seeds of doubt in jurors’ heads by focusing on what was perhaps the prosecution’s main witness: Keannu Pinnock.
Pinnock, 20, Wilkes-Barre, has already pleaded guilty to a third-degree murder charge and agreed to testify against Thomas in exchange for other charges being dropped.
And while Pinnock did provide some of the prosecution’s most damning evidence — including the dramatic detail of Thomas reloading his gun, putting it to Crooks’ head and pulling the trigger, only to have the gun jam — Price pointed out that Pinnock’s testimony is the only one with those details, despite other eyewitnesses.
“The credibility of his statement, I defer to you,” Price told the jury.
‘Animosity in air’
Prosecutor Ross asked jurors to consider the case fairly and to remember that Crooks was a person with a life, more than just a drug dealer.
“You cannot just say, ‘Eh, everyone got what they deserved,’” Ross said. “It was a human life. One that was snuffed out too early by two other people.”
Ross dismissed the inconsistencies from prosecution witnesses, saying it was human nature for multiple people to remember the same series of events differently. However, he said, there were common themes between the varied stories.
Ross asked jurors to consider the facts known to many of the witnesses, who said the deadly dispute seemed to stem from a previous disagreement after Crooks ordered Pinnock to stop selling drugs for him due to a perceived mistake.
“There was animosity in the air, and Mulah was walking around with a gun in his pocket,” Ross said. “That’s intent.”
And according to Ross, the clearest example of Thomas’ intentions came when he cocked the gun, putting a bullet in the chamber.
“Click, click,” Ross said, making the motion with his hands. “That’s specific intent.”
Ross told jurors: “It’s time to hold Mulah accountable. It’s time to find Mulah guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy. Why? Because he is.”