For all documents provided via FOIA re Jermane Scott’s case please link to:
Springfield, Ohio, December. 6, 1996. Bertram Thomas Jr is discovered dead—the victim of a homicide. Thomas’s body—discovered by concerned neighbours—is found in the basement of his apartment. Thomas has sustained a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.
Three days following, Jermane Antojuan Scott is arrested in connection with Thomas’s murder. The next day, Scott is charged. The Springfield Police report dated Dec. 11 read as follows:
“Investigation showed that the death of Mr. Thomas was caused by a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. During the investigation that followed it was found that the suspect was responsible for Mr. Thomas’s death. On 12/9/96 the suspect was arrested for Agg.Murder and a Fel.Assault Indictment.”
The murder of Thomas appears to be an open-and-shut case. The ‘investigation that followed,’ leading to Scott being charged, has taken approximately 4 days.
By using police files, trial transcripts, coroner reports and other information provided by a FOIA request, we can look further into the murder of Bertram Thomas, and try to ascertain why Jermane Scott was charged so quickly. As is often the case, the initial days of enquiry often shape the following investigation, and subsequent trial. So let’s rewind.
According to police reports, Bertram Thomas was found dead at his residence of 1629 Portage Path, Springfield, Ohio on December 6th, 1996 by Patricia Shepherd and her son Michael Shepherd, along with Michael Price, a neighbourhood local.
Mr. Thomas, a former teacher, often provided Shepherd’s children—Michael and Juan— lifts into school in the mornings. Neither her, or her sons had heard from Thomas in the preceding days and had decided to call on him as they had become worried for his safety. Mr. Thomas’s front door was locked but had a ‘habit’ of coming open if it was knocked with reasonable force. Due to concern, Shepherd forcibly knocked on the front door shortly after 1600hrs and it came open. After entry, Thomas was found in the basement by Michael and was unresponsive. His mother called him away and contacted 911.
An initial police incident report was provided by Officer James Hall. In which Hall stated that “upon officers arrival Sgt. Czyzak was called to the scene. The medic unit was called and medic 8 (Ken Dover) responded to the scene.”
During trial testimony—some 10 months later—paramedic Dover testified to being first on the scene. Following Dover’s testimony, Officer Delana Embry—who was working with Officer Hall that day—also testified to paramedics being there when she arrived. Of note though is Embry’s report.
Crime scene units are not called unless there is a suspicion of a crime. Embry suggests that the CSU, along with Medic 8 (Dover) and the coroner’s office responded to the scene—perhaps after first response by both officers Hall and Embry. Medic 8—Kenneth Dover’s—trial testimony also suggested that he and his partner, Dan Pamer, may not have been the first responders.
“There was some neighbours is what they said.” Determining who Dover is referring to by “they” is impossible and by no means proves that medics were not first on the scene, but along with both Officer Hall’s and Embry’s report, it does raise doubt. Officers Hall and Embry worked for Patrol Division. When a call comes in, they respond.
Perhaps minor inconsistencies, but inconsistencies that amounted to a couple of many—as we shall see—during the initial investigation.
During trial, Officer Hall was not called to offer testimony, and Jermane Scott’s attorneys chose not to cross-examine Officer Embry.
Further contained within Officer Hall’s report were mention of interviews with one of Thomas’s neighbours and his siblings—Berea, Elana and David. These interviews were not included within the FOIA request.
Michael Goodwin informed Hall that he had last seen Thomas 2-days-prior, on Dec. 4, “at about 1900 hours through the window of his house. Goodwin also said that he remembered seeing a blue Pontiac, 4-door in the driveway of Thomas’ on the same date (12/4/96) at about 1830 hours.” Michael Goodwin was never called upon to testify by either the prosecution or the defence.
Hall summarised in his report stating, “Elana Thomas said that she came to her father’s house on 12/5/96 at about 1245 hours. However there was no answer at her father’s door.”
Sgt. Al Graeber, Springfield Police, further filed a report referencing Thomas’s death dated 12/6/96. Graeber’s report offered more evidence as to the crime-scene itself. “Upon arriving at the scene, Thomas was found laying on his left hand side. His left pant pocket had been pulled inside out. The right pant pocket was partially pulled out…. there was an ashtray laying just to the right of him on the floor and cigarette butts were on the floor….around the basement of the house were Latin King signs and graffiti….some of the neighbours stated that young men were always going in and out of Thomas’ house. Upstairs it appears that someone had kicked open a locked bedroom door….During the investigation it was found that the dead man’s 1985 Buick station wagon was found missing from the garage.” Graeber followed by asserting that the last time Thomas’s car had last been seen was 12/3/96 at 2000hrs.
Patricia Shepherd was the first witness sworn at the trial of Jermane Scott, on Sep. 10, 1997. During her testimony Shepherd affirmed that she went over to Thomas’s residence to see if he was there.
Shepherd’s testimony, that Thomas’s car was in the garage was clearly at odds to Sgt. Graeber asserting that the car was last seen 3 evenings prior. If Thomas’s car wasn’t in the garage, why would Pat Shepherd think that Thomas was in residence, and bang on a closed door so hard for it to come ‘magically’ open. This is clearly not proof as to whether Thomas’s car was there or not, but it does offer few options. Either the car was there, and Greaber’s report was incorrect, the car wasn’t there and Patricia Shepherd lied under oath, or the car went missing between the time of Shepherd first arriving at Thomas’s residence, and Springfield Police discovering the car was missing at 2150hrs—less than 6 hours later. The latter seeming highly improbable.
What is known is that Thomas’s Buick was reported missing at 2200hrs on 12/6/96. Some 7 hours later at 0511hrs the following morning, his car was found.
The Crime Scene Unit arrived at Thomas’s residence at 1707 hrs—Sgt. Michael Haytas filing the report. During the 3 hours that the CUI were there, 12 items were recovered and taken into evidence for testing. These items included the glass ashtray found next to the victims body, a broken ceiling-tile—directly above that of the victim—a drinking glass and a plastic mug. Apart from the items taken into evidence, no further testing of the property was conducted. The CUI ran no tests for prints on any of the rooms in the residence, including 3 bedrooms. In the Southeast bedroom the drawers were open. In the Southwest bedroom the door was kicked in and the lock was found under the bed, and in the Northwest bedroom the sheets had been thrown over the beds as if “someone was looking for something under the beds.”
Also at the crime scene on the evening of the 6th was Springfield Police Detective, Douglas Estep. Estep took notes on calls made to the Thomas residence while officers were there and—using the caller ID system—summarised calls made during the preceding days. Estep noted that the caller ID system had a limit of 60 calls, of which Estep noted down 28—2 calls appear to be duplicates on Estep’s notes—with “Call 1” occurring at 1849 hrs on 12/4/96. Even taking in to account that Estep noted that 17 calls were made while police were at the scene, 13 caller ID’s appear to be missing.
Of those 17 calls that were made while officers were at the scene, Estep made note of a young female calling and asking for a Mike. According to Estep, he said no to the female and she hung up.
Estep, during his investigation on the evening of the 6th made contact with 2 of the numbers on Thomas’s caller ID. One of these was a Danny Threats. Threats rented a property off Thomas and was wanting to move upstairs—into another property also owned by Thomas. Threats originally stated that he was “almost sure” that the last time he saw Thomas was on December the 2nd at approximately 1700hrs, but phoned back later that same evening to inform Estep that it was actually the 3rd. According to Estep’s notes, Threats was the person who informed him that Thomas’s car should have been in the driveway or garage, and because of this, Estep reported the vehicle missing after he and Officer Kohler crawled through a garage window and noted it wasn’t there.
Estep also contacted a Mrs. R. Jones—whose number was on Thomas’s caller ID. Jones informed Estep that Thomas often gave lifts to school for her son Tony and other children in the neighbourhood. Jones’s husband contacted Estep later on that same evening, and informed him that Tony had been suspended from school on the 3rd and had been to see Thomas that afternoon and had spoken with him.
Found on Thomas’s coffee table was a business card for Better Home Improvements. Eric Tisher, a salesman for the company, had visited Thomas to look at replacing windows at his home on the 3rd. Tisher was not contacted until the 9th by Estep but he did give a statement that day and also later testified at trial. However, we shall come back to Tisher shortly.
Officer Kohler was assigned to crime scene security the evening Thomas’s body was discovered. During his watch he noted that at approximately 2135hrs, he observed a grey/silver hatchback vehicle follow Sgt. Czyzak away from the crime scene. The car was occupied by 2 White/Hispanic males. The same vehicle returned 10 minutes later, turned around in a driveway north of Thomas’s residence and left. The following day, Kohler observed the same vehicle, this time occupied by at least 4 White/Hispanic males appearing to be 16-20 years of age. The vehicle pulled up alongside a residence in Euclid avenue—in the same neighbourhood as Thomas. Kohler was unable to ID the occupants as he was called away on a 911 call but did take the vehicles registration. In Kohler’s notes he made mention of a vehicle registration printout, and information on the owner being attached. This information was not included in the FOIA request. What was included was the fact the vehicle was a 1985 Toyota hatchback.
Back to Eric Tisher. Notes from Tisher, taken on the 9th stated that he was at Thomas’s residence on the 3rd between 1500 and 1730hrs. When Tisher arrived a 16/17 year old white male with shoulder length hair was at the property. When the male left at approximately 1715hrs, he said, ” See you later Bert.” to which Thomas replied, “You’ll be at school tomorrow.” This ties in with what Tony’s father informed Estep on the 6th. His son had been suspended on the 3rd and had visited Thomas. Perhaps more importantly in Tisher’s statement, was mention of a “silver mid-80’s small compact vehicle—’possibly’ a (2 crossed out) 4-door Toyota Celica.” Tisher stated that there were 2 black, male occupants in the car—parked to the left of the residence under a streetlight—directing their attention towards Thomas’s home. Tisher claimed in his statement that Thomas had been wearing brown slacks during his visit. When Thomas was found dead on the 6th his trousers were white, as can be seen in the crime scene photos—Follow link at head of article.
What is evident from that initial evenings investigation on the Dec. 6, was that Thomas was certainly seen on the 3rd and according to neighbour Michael Goodwin, the 4th of December, at approximately 7pm.
In the following part of this series of articles, we shall see how Springfield Police came to the conclusion that Thomas was murdered on the evening of December. 3.
2 Key witnesses—Michael Enis and Terry Portman— are questioned by police and later testify in court to Jermane Scott shooting Thomas, while all 3 were at Thomas’s residence on the evening of the 3rd. We will also hear from further witnesses, all claiming that Scott admitted to shooting Thomas in the days preceding the initial investigation. The reasons why they might do so will also be made evident.
Before signing off on this first instalment, let us return to Patricia Shepherd, who testified to seeing Thomas’s vehicle when she went with her son to look for him at 4pm on December. 6.
Patricia had 2 sons. Michael Shepherd and Juan Mendoza. During trial testimony Patricia testified to both her sons not being able to find Thomas on Wednesday morning. Wednesday night they tried to call him. Same thing Thursday. “So Friday after school, the boys came to the house; and they said, ‘we think something’s wrong with Bert.’ [so] we went to the house,…” This of course does not prove that Juan Mendoza went to Bertram Thomas’s house that afternoon after school, but it’s certainly possible that he did. Juan Mendoza could easily have left the property in the time between the initial discovery and the time that the medics/police first responded.
Juan Mendoza was a member of a gang named the Latin Kings. Juan Mendoza was also wanted for questioning in relation to the murder of Paris Harper, who had been murdered 1-week-prior.
Paris Harper had been murdered by a single gunshot wound to the back of the head.
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